A tale of two polls: GOP imploding, Biden growing stronger
A NYT/Sienna poll of GOP voters showed Trump surging, DeSantis fizzling. A day later its poll of Dems and the general electorate shows Biden's support has grown. All bad new for Republicans.
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Yesterday, the New York Times/Sienna College poll of GOP voters revealed something that should have the Republican establishment quaking.
Not only is Donald Trump, twice impeached and twice indicted (with more indictments coming), crushing Ron DeSantis, leading by over 30 points with 54% while DeSantis has 17% and the other candidates are in low single digits; in a one-on-one matchup, Trump trounces DeSantis 62% to 31%.
That is astounding considering that many in the GOP have claimed that with too many candidates in the field, Trump will definitely win. Mitt Romney recently urged donors to pressure candidates to drop out. But now we’re seeing that the GOP truly is the party of conspiracy theorists, white supremacy, and the Big Lie.
Even with two people in the race—one of whom is a carbon copy of the other, just more efficient and without the criminal indictments and possibility of going to prison—the GOP voters want the authoritarian criminal and terrorist enabler. Those in the GOP establishment who hoped that Trump’s dictatorial agenda and his indictments would cause him to collapse in a one-on-one race for the GOP nomination appear to be sadly and profoundly mistaken, at least for now.
Then today, the NYT/Sienna poll released its poll of both Democratic voters and general electorate voters. President Biden’s numbers have improved, Democrats are broadly behind him among all age groups rather than seeking another candidate, and any challenger to him in the primary doesn’t appear to be gaining any traction to do any damage.
The poll does show that the president is neck-and-neck in a general election matchup with Trump, with both of them getting 43%. But I don’t put much stock in that, even as the Times blows this up in its usual fashion.
Any general election polling at this point is useless, as the focus is on the primaries. These numbers will change, and I just don’t trust the NYT/Sienna poll—or most polls—when it comes to measuring the president’s and Democrats’ support. Taken as a whole, the polling results of the two days, even with all the caveats about following polls, should be ringing alarms for the GOP and making Democrats feel more confident, even though there’s an enormous amount of work to do.
Some folks might say I’m cherry-picking what I like about the NYT/Sienna polls and dismissing what I don’t.
But hear me out: The NYT/Sienna generally does a good job and has often sharply predicted elections. But they’ve also made some big blunders. And the blunders aren’t random. NYT/Sienna’s screw-ups, like those of a slew of other pollsters in the past few years, have almost exclusively been about missing surging Democratic support and showing Republicans over-performing when in fact they under-performed when election results came in, often losing elections.
That’s because Democratic candidates draw votes from coalitions made up of many constituencies, many of which are minorities, while the GOP draws votes mostly from a giant swath of White people across rural-ish red America. The former is more complex and causes problems for pollsters, as we saw with the NYT/Sienna poll last fall, because the sample size of different groups within the poll is often way too small to be predictive—though they make predictions anyway.
So, in October of 2022, much of the media sensationally blew up the claims of the NYT/ Sienna that momentum had moved back to the GOP for the mid-terms in a big way because support of independent women had shifted 32 points—from favoring Democrats by 14 points in September to favoring Republicans by 18 points in October. Prognosticators were talking about a red tsunami.
All of this was based, however, on a sample in the NYT/Sienna poll of just 95 independent women, which had a lot of Democrats highly skeptical—only after first panicking, of course, and then doing a deep dive on the polling. I wrote all about it and the other breathless (and ultimately wrong) polls at the time.
In the end, there was no red wave, as Republicans eked out a slight win in the House and Democrats increased their Senate majority. The Dobbs decision and women were, of course, key, and that includes independent and even Republican women.
I know it’s jarring to see that 43% of Americans would choose Donald Trump to be president, even as pollsters often oversample Republicans and underestimate Democratic enthusiasm. It would be just as jarring if it were 33% (which is probably what it is closer to), but we’re living in a world in which Trump has used the Big Lie, working through propaganda media conglomerates like Fox, which his base willingly solely watches, to convince millions that he’s done nothing wrong. Add to that the millions more who believe he did commit crimes but actually think it would be worse to have a Democrat in the White House than a criminal.
Indeed, perhaps the most startling aspect of the NYT/Sienna poll of GOP voters was that, while most of those who support Trump believe he committed no crimes and that all of the investigations are a "witchhunt," another 22% of those who support him over Ron DeSantis in a one-on-one race believe he has committed serious federal crimes.
"I think he’s committed crimes," Joseph Derito, 81, of Elmira, N.Y., told the pollsters. "I think he’s done terrible things. But he’s also done a lot of good."
This is a sickness that has affected millions. They’re now admitting that they would like to put a criminal in the White House, someone who did “terrible” things. Some are even admitting that they’re in a cult, like the woman at a Trump rally in Pennsylvania over the weekend who said: "I was just told yesterday that I was part of a cult, and I’m damn proud of it. I am. He’s part of us. He truly is."
The good news is that this dangerous movement wasn’t enough to put Trump over the top in 2020 or give the GOP the conventional wave it should have had in 2022. And key issues have changed dramatically, even in recent months, in the Democrats’ favor. The economy is showing signs of booming, with a healthy GDP growing, wages rising, and more optimism that there is no recession on the horizon. Bidenomics is working.
Abortion rights are now an even more urgent issue, as states have passed draconian bans. And with the threat to democracy with Trump on the ballot even greater, and huge majorities of Americans in many polls saying they’re worried about freedoms being taken away, we know there are many more of us than them. We just have to make sure people get out and vote.