There’s a scene in the peerless animated comedy Monsters Inc.—a cable-news special report featuring Dr. Frasenberger, who looks like a giant pencil. “It is my professional opinion,” he begins calmly, “that now is the time…TO PANIC!!!!!” If I were a Democrat today, or a Never Trumper, I would be Dr. Frasenberger. Because now is the time TO PANIC!!!! if you don’t want Donald Trump to be president.

The release early Sunday morning of a New York Times-Siena poll of the presidential race showing Trump up by 5 points nationally not only confirms the undeniable evidence over the past six months that Trump has pulled into a measurable lead in the presidential race outside the margin of error, but also that things are getting worse and worse for the president as the year 2024 progresses.

There is literally no good news for Biden in this poll. Let’s break it down.

First, the simple practical math. NYT-Sienna confirms results we’ve been seeing for months now. It features Trump winning by 4 nationally—and remember that even in victory in 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by 3 points. Trump has not historically done well in national polling. If you go back and add up the number of days in the 2016 and the 2020 electoral races, you find that Trump led in the poll averages on exactly 5 days out of 600—and never for a single day against Biden.

Now get this. On October 18, 2023, Biden and Trump were tied in the RCP average of all polling. Since that day, 135 days ago, Trump has led. Every single day. Not by a huge amount, mind you—his largest margin came on January 26, when he led by 4.3 points. As I write, his lead is 2.3 points. Still, the point stands. It may have taken him 8 years in presidential politics to achieve it, but Trump is now a steady polling favorite.

When people hate survey results, they usually say things like “it’s just one poll” or “it’s a snapshot in time” or “a week is a lifetime in politics.”  It keeps them from becoming Dr. Frasenberger. Michael Tyler of the Biden campaign offered a ready response to the bad news: “Polling continues to be at odds with how Americans vote, and consistently overestimates Donald Trump while underestimating President Biden.”

I’m sorry, but this is simply untrue, and Democrats should not take false comfort. Historically, Democrats have overpolled in presidential contests. In 2016, the polling average overestimated Clinton’s victory in the popular vote, coming out at 3.2 rather than the final result of 2.1 percent. In 2020, the final Real Clear Politics average had Biden up 7.2 percent, but he only won by 4.5 percent. And the state-level polling in 2020 was in some races disastrously off—in the Democrats’ favor. The final poll average in Wisconsin in 2020 had Biden up by 6.7 and he won by only 0.7 percent. In Florida, the final average had Biden winning by about a point; Trump won by 3.3.

Well, this NYT thing is a national poll, you might scoff. The electoral college is what matters, and in 2020, Biden beat Trump by seizing states Tump had won in 2016 and securing exactly the same electoral vote total Trump had secured four years earlier. Biden prevailed in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—the key states in Trump’s national political realignment—and seized the Republican-friendly states of Arizona and Georgia that had both gone for the GOP candidate in every contest dating back to 2000.

Fine. But look at them now. The only one of these states currently in Biden’s column is Pennsylvania. Michigan tells the dreadful tale for Biden. Trump won it in 2016 by 10,000. Biden won it in 2020 by 150,000 votes, or 3 percent.  Right now, in the Real Clear Politics average, Trump is beating Biden by 3.6 percent. (And Nevada, which no Republican has won since George W. Bush in 2004, is now considered a swing state.) If the election were held today, Trump would win with 293 electoral votes.

Second, Biden is losing Democrats and swing voters. The potentially epochal result of the 2024 election could be the realignment of Hispanic voters, traditionally an overwhelmingly Democratic group. The NYT-Siena poll again makes clear what other polls have suggested over the past six months, which is that Trump’s strength among Hispanics is undeniable. I’ll let Jennifer Medina of the New York Times say it, since clearly neither she nor the New York Times wants to say it: “The poll shows Mr. Trump edging out Mr. Biden among Hispanic voters, with 46 percent supporting the former president and 40 percent favoring Mr. Biden….[It should be noted that] the poll’s sample size of the group is not large enough to assess small differences reliably. For a subgroup that size, the margin of error is 10 percentage points. But the poll, and others like it, make clear that Mr. Trump has continued to make remarkable inroads with Hispanic voters.”

46-40! When Trump was insulting a judge in Wisconsin for being Hispanic, or showing his love for Latinos by eating a taco bowl at his desk, who would ever have thought this possible? And that’s not the only jaw-dropping result among a Democratic constituency. African-Americans are still overwhelmingly Democratic, but…not quite so overwhelmingly. This poll puts Trump’s support among black people at 23 percent, with 66 percent supporting Biden. In 2016, African-Americans voted for Hillary Clinton by a margin of 91-6. In 2020, Biden won 92 percent. If the NYT-Siena numbers hold—and again, they are not outliers but confirm other polling of African Americans this year—it will be nearly impossible for Biden to design a winning coalition in November with only 2/3rds of the black vote.

Still, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Biden does succeed in reassembling the vast majority of reliable Democratic party members and voters in November. The NYT-Siena poll is still very bad news for him for reasons best explicated by Nate Silver:

“In the poll, only 83 percent of voters who say they chose Biden in 2020 plan to vote for him this year, whereas 97 percent who voted for Trump plan to vote for Trump again. These are swing voters, in other words…[and] these vote-switchers largely do not come from the core of the Democratic base….[So] if Biden is retaining only 83 percent of his 2020 vote overall, that implies he’s doing quite poorly with people who voted for him in 2020 but who are not loyal Democratic primary voters. Only about 75 percent of this group say they’ll vote for Biden again.”

Now, maybe they don’t really mean it. Maybe they’re going to come home to Biden eventually. That still indicates Biden is beginning the general-election campaign in earnest with a huge enthusiasm gap relative to Trump. And remember that Trump himself has an enthusiasm problem of some size owing to questions about his character and the legal action against him, as suggested by. Nikki Haley’s not-disastrous showing against him (even if much of her vote has come from people who never voted for Trump in the first or second place).

How can Biden improve his standing? This is the big enchilada, and it’s not looking tasty. We have every reason to think that he can’t do much to make things better and that his liabilities are not only baked in the cake but are likely to become more pronounced rather than less as the year continues.

What does this poll tell us about America’s views of Biden? Shane Goldmacher of the NYT summarizes the findings: “Only one in four voters think the country is moving in the right direction. More than twice as many voters believe Mr. Biden’s policies have personally hurt them as believe his policies have helped them. A majority of voters think the economy is in poor condition. And the share of voters who strongly disapprove of Mr. Biden’s handling of his job has reached 47 percent, higher than in Times/Siena polls at any point in his presidency.”

The election is in eight months. Could some of those voters be persuaded to think differently by November? Well, maybe, but the economic turnaround on these kinds of matters that benefited incumbents in similar circumstances actually had already happened by the end of February in a reelection year—meaning that voters were already feeling better about the country and their own prospects. I’m thinking of Ronald Reagan, who was viewed as a problematic prospect for reelection, until he presided over an economy that grew 5.4 percent in the final quarter of 1983 and then a staggering 8.3 percent in the first quarter of 1984. By contrast, Biden is, at the moment, presiding over a slowdown in GDP growth; the third quarter of 2023 did see a boffo growth number of 4.9 percent before the fourth quarter registered growth of only 3.2 percent. And the Federal Reserve of Atlanta is now projecting growth will slow still further in the first quarter, down to 2.1 percent.

The American people are sour on the state of things for a reason. Inflation may be lower than it has been, but goods still cost substantially more than they did when Biden took office—and any benefit Americans may be enjoying from the impressive wage growth they may have experienced has been immediately eaten up by higher food prices and higher interest rates and prices on big-ticket items like cars and homes. All of this can get better in the course of this year, but there’s no sign any of it will improve dramatically. And as was proved by the White House effort to make “Bidenomics” happen, with the same success Gretchen Wieners had in making fetch happen, you can’t talk people into feeling that the day-to-day difficulties of life are improving. They will either feel the improvement, have their mood lightened, and feel better about the country and its leadership or they won’t. Right now they aren’t.

And then there’s age.

If you dig into the crosstabs of the NYT-Siena poll you’ll find that there are a bunch of questions they haven’t yet released the answers to but will (I’m guessing) on subsequent days to keep their poll generating new news. I’m guessing those unreleased numbers have to do with perceptions of Biden and Trump on matters of age, competence, and criminality. And given that the results in this poll dovetail pretty well with the recent NBC News poll released three weeks ago, the age response is likely to be devastating for Biden. As Mark Murray of NBC News reported: “A combined 76% of voters say they have major concerns (62%) or moderate concerns (14%) about Biden’s not having the necessary mental and physical health to be president for a second term.”

It’s been said a billion times, but I’ll say it again: One thing Biden really cannot do is get any younger.

Thursday night the president will give the State of the Union address. The stakes are crazily high, because there’s no way to set the bar low. One false move and he’s done for.

But what does “done for” mean? I have no idea. No one can explain to me the modality of how Democrats would dump him from the ticket. That leaves it to Biden and his loved ones. The question is whether Biden himself is looking at these numbers—and in moments of clarity is able to discern the colossal humiliation he may be on the verge of experiencing, not to mention historical judgment that will be rendered of his feckless decision to hold on to the reins of power should he lose in November.

Might he, therefore, get himself out of the race and give Democrats a chance to do what they clearly think is the most important thing they can do—save America from another Trump term?

Biden claims to love poetry. And there are two great poems about senescence. One is Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium,” with its savage lines: “An aged man is but a paltry thing,/A tattered coat upon a stick.” In it, the poet yearns for release from his paltriness; he feels his soul has been “fastened to a dying animal,” which is his body.

The other is Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which is far more inspiring: “Though we are not now that strength which in old days/Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;/One equal temper of heroic hearts/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

He obviously wants to be seen as the Ulysses of Tennyson; weakened by time and fate, but strong in will, and unyielding. But as he moves about the world in full view of the people who will decide his future, he seems far more like a tattered coat upon a stick fastened to a dying animal. He would truly be the Ulysses of Tennyson if he were able to see himself clearly and realize that the only real act of a heroic heart would be to yield.




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