Even at the time, the dynamic in the 2020 presidential contest was obvious and uncomplicated. Voters liked Joe Biden well enough, but they really didn’t like President Donald Trump. So Republicans mostly turned out to keep Trump in office, while Democrats mostly turned out to send him packing.
This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon, but the scale was. The 2020 election was less a contest between two candidates than a referendum on one. And — new polling from CNN indicates — 2024 will be, too.
The poll conducted by CNN’s partner, SSRS, found that Trump has a narrow lead in a hypothetical matchup between the two men. (Hypothetical in the sense that neither has yet locked down his party’s nomination, but nonetheless all but certain.) The former president leads by four points overall and by four points among independents.
Notice those bottom two lines, though. Among those who approve of the job Biden is doing as president, he has a big 87-point lead. Among those who disapprove of Biden’s performance, Trump has a narrower 64-point lead. Even within that group, Biden gets 14 percent of the vote.
CNN provided The Washington Post with a breakdown of support relative to views of Biden’s job as president. Those who strongly approve of Biden overwhelmingly back him. Those who strongly disapprove overwhelmingly back Trump. But those who only moderately approve also overwhelmingly back Biden, while those who only moderately disapprove — a fifth of the total — only narrowly prefer the Republican.
This is noteworthy even if, again, it’s not surprising. This week, we reported on other polling showing that Biden had an advantage among those who view both him and Trump unfavorably. That’s probably the case with the above voters, too.
Why would you vote for Biden if you didn’t approve of how he’s doing as president? For a lot of respondents, the answer is easy: because he’s running against Trump.
In fact, most Biden supporters in CNN’s poll say their vote is more about opposing Trump than about supporting Biden. Even among those who approve of Biden’s performance as president, most of his supporters say their vote is more anti-Trump than pro-Biden.
(Blank lines below indicate that there were too few respondents in the category to break out their views.)
Trump supporters, though, generally say their vote is a positive one, based more on their enthusiasm for him than opposition to Biden. The exception is independents, who are often motivated largely by negative partisanship — that is, opposition to a candidate rather than support for one.
This is the dynamic that Biden’s campaign team is reportedly counting on. The other remaining Republican candidate in the party’s primary, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, often fares better against Biden, thanks in part to triggering less of a hostile response from voters. Get Trump in there against Biden, the thinking goes, and the same anti-Trump vote as in 2020 might hand Biden a second term.
Unless, of course, voters who dislike Trump and Biden — of whom there are more this time around — simply decide not to vote at all.