Trump Leads Biden in Meaningless Poll

We're three short years from the next election.

Were the Presidential election being held today—and I am reliably informed it is not—former President Donald Trump might well defeat current President Joe Biden, according to a dubious poll released by an otherwise reputable outfit to generate pageviews.

The Hill (“More voters would pick Trump over Biden if election were held today: poll“):

More voters would back former President Trump than President Biden in a hypothetical match-up if the 2024 election were held today, according to a new Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey released exclusively to The Hill.

Forty-eight percent of voters in the survey said they would back Trump, compared with 45 percent for Biden. Another 8 percent were unsure.

The results were evenly split at 46 percent among women, while men backed Trump by a margin of 50 percent to 43 percent. Biden won urban voters by 20 percentage points and suburban voters by 4 percentage points, but Trump romped among rural voters by 33 percentage points.

So, again, we’re almost three years out from the next election. Trump is 75 and Biden is 79; there’s no guarantee both will live that long, much less be the party nominees. Still, the poll reflects something of modest interest: the events of the last thirteen months have done nothing to dissuade those who supported Trump in the last election. He received 46.9% of the vote last time and is showing almost exactly that number in this survey.

Which makes this unsurprising:

Should Trump run, he would likely skate to the 2024 GOP nomination, according to the poll.

Trump holds a gargantuan lead over any other potential GOP contender. Sixty-seven percent of Republican voters would back the former president, with former Vice President Mike Pence coming in second with 9 percent and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis coming in third with 8 percent.

The poll is largely in line with other surveys that have suggested Trump is a shoo-in for the Republican nomination if he wages a third White House bid in 2024.

Given his command of the microphone and the fact that pretending the last election was stolen is a de facto requirement for participation, I don’t see how a serious alternative can emerge.

But this is just silly:

“The collapse of Biden has led to a surge for President Trump on all fronts both in the GOP primary and in a potential general election,” said pollster Mark Penn.

First, Biden hasn’t “collapsed.” Yes, he’s underwater in the polls. Here’s the RealClearPolitics trendline:

But compare that to Trump’s tenure:

Trump spent all but the first couple days of his presidency underwater. On December 7, 2017, exactly this point in his administration, Trump’s approval was 38.5% and his disapproval 57.4%—much worse than Biden today.

Second, Biden’s approval has next to nothing to do with what happens in the GOP primaries.

Biden defeated Trump by about 7 million votes in 2020, or roughly 4 percentage points. He won largely because of narrow victories in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all of which Trump had taken in 2016.

Which brings me to a rather important point: while national-level polling gives us some useful information, we don’t elect Presidents in a national election but rather 51 local contests, the overwhelming number of which I can accurately predict for 2024, 2028, and 2032 with no knowledge of the nominees. How are the two men polling in the swing states? This survey doesn’t tell us.


The Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey of 1,989 registered voters was conducted from Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. It is a collaboration of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and the Harris Poll.

The survey is an online sample drawn from the Harris Panel and weighted to reflect known demographics. As a representative online sample, it does not report a probability confidence interval.

So, again, a reputable surveying team but a rather dubious methodology. “Registered voters” is not the sample we’re interested in but rather likely voters.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kylopod says:

    How are the two men polling in the swing states? This survey doesn’t tell us.

    Even if you did conduct such a poll, it would be essentially meaningless. Biden is unpopular right now, and he indeed would probably lose reelection if the election were held today. But that doesn’t tell us anything about how well he’ll do three years from now against Trump. Many presidents have experienced periods of unpopularity and then been reelected later. National approval ratings are actually a fairly good sign of a president’s reelection chances at the time of the election, but they’re almost meaningless before that year.

  2. senyordave says:

    The poll is meaningless in terms of it being any type of accurate prediction of what will happen in three years. IMO it is very meaningful in showing how Trump’s behavior has become normalized in society. A large portion of this country sees nothing wrong with his actions as president. They see nothing wrong with his increasingly successful attempt to subvert the election process in this country. And perhaps the scariest thing is that the Republican party, which now acts like a fringe party led by people whose only interest is attaining and maintaining power, has a significant lead over the Democrats in terms of voter preference (+10 in a ABC News/Washington Post poll from Nov).
    The pattern in my adult lifetime (I’m 63) is the Republicans get control, fuck up the country, the Democrats right the ship and get voted out, rinse and repeat. This was bad enough ten years ago, but at least there were sane Republicans who actually cared about the country. Now most of the party are a bunch of nutjobs, and the sane ones like McConnell just want power.
    When Obama was president the Republicans only went so far in terms of hamstringing him. If they retake House and Senate in 2022, there will be no restraint. McCarthy has signalled there will be no bottom if he is Speaker. There certainly seems to be no bottom with the Republican party, and the SCOTUS will back them to hilt.

  3. Matt Bernius says:


    IMO it is very meaningful in showing how Trump’s behavior has become normalized in society. A large portion of this country sees nothing wrong with his actions as president. They see nothing wrong with his increasingly successful attempt to subvert the election process in this country. And perhaps the scariest thing is that the Republican party, which now acts like a fringe party led by people whose only interest is attaining and maintaining power, has a significant lead over the Democrats in terms of voter preference (+10 in a ABC News/Washington Post poll from Nov).

    Repeated because this is a really important and scary point.

  4. CSK says:

    @Matt Bernius:
    I just made this point in a slightly different context in the Open Forum. People have become accustomed to Trump as a destructive entity.

  5. Scott F. says:

    @Matt Bernius:
    Normalization has never had more threatening implications.

  6. CSK says:

    @Scott F.:
    No, it hasn’t.

  7. Dude Kembro says:

    Wow, is RealClearPolitics still a thing people do? I thought most politicos had long-since put RCP out to pasture as Drudge Report with a more professional veneer.

    The 538 polling average has Biden at 42.8/51.2 approve/disapprove. Not great, but yes, better than Trump at this point. And I believe much of Biden’s “collapse” comes from Dems and Dem-leaners. Would they not come back home in a presidential contest vs. Trump? Who knows. Neither Trump nor Biden reach 50% in this head to head poll, I’d bet those 8% of “unsures” are hold-your-nose-and-vote-Biden.

    538 also shows Biden compared to previous presidents at this point in their first-term.

    Trump – 37.3 (lost re-election)
    Obama – 49.0 (won)
    W – 84.6 (won)
    Clinton – 51.5 (won)
    Papa Bush – 69.8 (lost)
    Reagan – 52.6 (won, landslide)
    Carter – 56.1 (lost, landslide)

    So I guess approval polling is not predictive and candidates really matter. I guess most Americans don’t want to see Biden v Trump II, so who knows how that would play out? Maybe an exhausted, depressed electorate would benefit Trump. But maybe anti-Trump fervor prevails.

    Either way, still sad and scary that ~40-45% of the electorate continues to entertain Trump’s fascism. Validation of my desire to expat to Germany before 2024.

  8. ImProPer says:

    If the polls are true, it is a testament that Biden is delivering as promised. This of course is going to put him at odds with the far left of the party. Running, then leading as, a competent, centrist President of all Americans, while comforting to those that are not on the fringes, it is not so much to those that are.
    Him running for a second term, while less concerning than a Trump win, is concerning none the less. In the entire Democrat party there is no one younger that is ready or willing to take the reigns, and give Joe a much deserved, dignified retirement? Currently the VP doesn’t appear to want to govern much, at least not optically, but there is still time there.
    The poll, is unfortunately unsurprising and demoralizing. It is also revealing, which is more important than any idealism, how ever great, for would be democratic leaders.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    Dana Milbank had a column at WAPO a few days ago demonstrating how unfairly negative press coverage of Biden has been. This seems sufficient to explain his current polling.

    He-Whom-I’m-Tired-Of was a complete lout and did all he could to overturn a fair election. Biden has restored dignity to the office and quickly pulled us out of recession. And the supposedly liberal MSM have treated them both alike, proving, to themselves, and no one else, their lack of bias. FTFNYT is more responsible for TFG winning in 2016 than anyone else. And they’ll do it again in 20204.

  10. just nutha says:

    Currently the VP doesn’t appear to want to govern much, at least not optically, but there is still time there.

    I’m not sure I understand what this little word garnish (too small to be a salad) means. Anyone got any substance to add?

  11. wr says:

    “Says pollster Mark Penn.” Tells me all I need to know.

  12. ImProPer says:

    @just nutha:

    My garnish above was not intended to be a slam, I’m genuinely curious. In our political environment, where optics are more important than they should be, The VP started out with one of the most moving acceptance speeches I have ever heard, but I haven’t seen much since. This could indeed be a positive. The current administration does have the largest mess to clean up after in my life time, and probably anyone’s life time for that matter.

  13. just nutha says:

    @ImProPer: I didn’t see it as a slam; the idea of a measure for how much the Veep wants to govern is completely foreign to me. I suppose that the near past with the 2 most grandly incompetent charlatans in modern memory might cause one to hope for better signs of the VP’s ability to rise to the challenge, though.

  14. ImProPer says:


    Well said! I’m only allotted one thumbs up, it deserves a double.

  15. Sleeping Dog says:


    Vice Presidents are like children, they should be seen and not heard. While there is too much drama emanating from #1 Observatory Dr, the press that Harris has received can be chalked up to a couple of things. The RW press trying to define and destroy her under the assumption she will be the Dem candidate in 24 and scoring cheap points by dumping on the dark skinned girl.

    Oh, VP’s don’t govern, they accept assignments at the pleasure of the president.

  16. ImProPer says:

    @just nutha:

    Thanks, I’m glad for that. I guess I just saw Biden as a one term president, strictly because of his age. Of course Veep as his natural replacement. However as someone who puts criminal justice reform high on the hierarchy of national importance, I would like to see more from her.
    TFGs only grade above an F- , is on this very issue, regardless if they were just photo opps. I just want to see the Democrats one up him on this as well.

  17. ImProPer says:

    @Sleeping Dog

    Mia culpa. See above. Joe has done alot, he deserves much better than my deeming him a one termer. Officially humbled.

  18. Sleeping Dog says:


    No problem. We all dig holes for ourselves on occasion.

  19. just nutha says:

    @ImProPer: I thought that “not Biden” was a more desirable choice until the most likely not of record became Bernie. I don’t have any objection to electing him beyond the age disqualifcation that I also held for Biden. It’s time for boomers and silents to step down and give somebody else’s mom a chance to be proud (as the Korean mom whose son had been elected class president for five straight years put it–being the class president’s mom has a lot of work attached), but I don’t see any of MY peers agreeing with me on this. The unfortunate part is that not being willing to step down seems to be creating a leadership gap that the party may struggle to overcome. I see who the up and comers are in the GQP–such as they are–but I’m not sure that I can say the same for the Democrats. Not being a party supporter may cloud my perception, though.

  20. Dude Kembro says:

    The talk is voters want new new new, yet we keep choosing same same same. Talk is cheap. Voters like their own incumbents and want folks in other districts and states to choose someone new.

    I appreciate the hunger for fresh meat, but Biden ran against younger people. He won the most votes. It’s (mostly white) youth voters who’ve kept Bernie relevant. Ditto Sen. Markey vs the much younger Joe Kennedy III. California, incubator of Kamala Harris, is also fiercely determined to allow Sen. Fienstein to die in office.

    My view on aging politicians is the same as my view on term limits: we have term limits, they’re called elections. Some state and local elections every year, congressional elections every other year. So I’m not sure Boomers and Silents should step down. Xers and NeXters should step up — and win elections if they want power. It can be done (see Obama, AOC), but context and candidates matter in each race.

    Buttigieg may be a stronger Biden heir than Harris, due in part to better communication skills. But both look risky. If Biden looks Truman- or LBJ-level weak, would not write off Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown, or Julian Castro for 2024. Or an under-the-radar governor like Laura Kelly, Andy Beshear or Michelle Grisham.

    A Berniebro friend recently made the case to me for Hillary/Warnock 2024 being less risky than Biden/Harris II. Go figure. And it was a solid case.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    …Hillary/Warnock 2024 ticket being less risky than Biden/Harris II. Go figure. And it was a solid case.

    While I’m sure that there’s a choir somewhere that likes the sound of that hymn, I’m still curious about what parallel universe people live in that will elect Hillary. (Or is there another politician named Hillary that I don’t know about?)

  22. Dude Kembro says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Hilary Swank?

    American politics is utterly strange. If you’d told political observers in 1965 that Richard Nixon would be elected president in 1968, you’d have been put in a straightjacket, not without reason. I mean, he’d lost to Kennedy in 1960 then turned around and lost the 1962 California governor’s race at a time when California was very Republican.

  23. Kylopod says:

    @Dude Kembro: Of course. And for the record, I’m sure Hillary would have won in 2008 as the Democratic nominee that year. But I think at this point she’s damaged goods.

  24. Kathy says:

    Cast your minds back to 1991. Bush the elder, flush from a quick and, to the allied side, relatively cheap victory over Saddam, looked to be as easy to beat as Superman on steroids. A year later he was done in by a mild recession and an inexplicably popular third party candidate.

    Sure, the Perot effect will be debated for millennia, along other such perennial questions as why the Roman empire collapsed, who were the Sea Peoples, and why the Detroit Lions are an NFL franchise. The point isn’t why Bush the elder lost, but that much can change in a year.

  25. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @senyordave: No no no, you are taking the away the wrong story.

    Trump is saving the Country from a degenerate and evil Democratic party—but any means necessary. Now put yourself in their shoes–if indeed America had been captured by an utterly evil political party–would you really give a shit about the ethics of the One Man who had the power to destroy that party?

    Its not about Trump–if these people believed Democrats to be loyal opposition they wouldn’t have a need for Trump. This is about a media ecosystem that has undermined the credibility and patriotism of the Democratic party so thoroughly that about 60% of rural voters combined with suburban Conservatives believes them to be illegitimate traitors they are unable to coexist with.

    As long a there is a sewage pipe dumping shit into the Community pool–Democrats will never run against their actual record. They’ll run as unadulterated evil against patriotic yet spineless, inept politicians.

    It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way–but apparently this isn’t important enough for democrats to invest in undermining the right wing messengers who built this image. Because they aren’t putting a whole lot in making people question theses messengers.