Biden Promised Normal. Do Voters Want His Version of It?

President Biden has argued for years that he is the politician to restore normalcy to American politics. But for almost as long, a subset of American voters, frustrated by everything from the economy to immigration policy, have argued that they do not want his version of it.

The latest New York Times/Philadelphia Inquirer/Siena College poll in battleground states, released on Monday, showed that most voters still wanted to “bring politics in Washington back to normal.” But nearly 70 percent of voters said the country’s political and economic systems needed major changes or to be completely torn down. And few believed that Mr. Biden would make even minor changes that would be good for the country.

The view from the Biden campaign is this: There is still time to sell Mr. Biden’s economic and policy accomplishments, and officials are working to connect with the voters who will decide the election. There is still time to draw a character contrast between Mr. Biden and his predecessor and challenger, Donald J. Trump.

And, they argue, Mr. Biden is not satisfied with business as usual, either.

“This campaign is not arguing for the status quo,” said Molly Murphy, a pollster with the Biden campaign. “The most important piece is acknowledging that people are still feeling frustrated and behind, and that the problems and the struggles that people are facing were not caused by this president and in fact have been alleviated” by Mr. Biden.

Recent polling has been consistent enough to reflect widespread discontent with both candidates. Mr. Biden’s handling of the Gaza war has been deeply unpopular among young, Black and Hispanic voters, whose frustration, if it continues, could unravel the president’s Democratic coalition.

The polling has been more frustrating to Mr. Biden and his advisers than they have acknowledged publicly, according to several people in his orbit, who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions. But they say the bright spot, if there is one, is that Mr. Trump’s unpredictability and dark messaging on matters ranging from the economy to immigration may not win him new voters.

“It’s hard for Donald Trump to win more voters than we’re seeing in this poll,” Ms. Murphy said.

Still, according to pollsters not employed by the Biden campaign, the recent numbers, even if they do represent an incomplete and imperfect snapshot, indicate voters who are frustrated that their concerns have not been heard, and might even have a different view of what normal politics looks like for them.

“Their idea of normalcy is: ‘Represent me like I deserve to be represented, hear me like I deserve to be heard, fight for me like I deserve to be fought for,’” said Frank Luntz, a veteran Republican pollster. In other words, he added: “‘Say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you say, get it done.’”

Mr. Biden’s lengthy list of accomplishments has done little to assuage frustration over high prices and pervasive concern about the economy, an issue that is consistently at the top of voters’ concerns. Infrastructure projects are underway across the country. America is aggressively pouring money into the establishment of facilities that manufacture semiconductors. Inflation is lower, and the economy has defied expectations.

“They got a 5 percent pay increase that they’re grateful for. Food now costs 11 percent more,” Mr. Luntz said. “And Biden is saying: ‘Look at me. Look at Bidenomics.’ They’re saying: ‘I can’t afford to eat meat. I can’t afford to fill my car with gas.’”

In recent weeks, Mr. Biden and his top advisers have been bullish when asked about the work of his re-election campaign, and they have criticized the news media for its coverage. “While the press doesn’t write about it, the momentum is clearly in our favor,” Mr. Biden said at an event hosted by the actor Michael Douglas last month.

On Monday, Joe Scarborough, one of Mr. Biden’s most-watched television hosts, delivered a lengthy monologue about polls from The Times being slanted toward Mr. Trump.

But over the weekend, Fareed Zakaria, a CNN anchor and another Biden favorite, said he wanted to be “honest about reality.” Mr. Zakaria went on to say that gloomy voter sentiments, particularly about Mr. Biden’s handling of the economy, showed a “stunning reversal in the midst of a relentless stream of good economic news.” He also warned that polls had consistently underestimated the potency of Mr. Trump’s appeal to voters.

It is true that polls reflect a snapshot in time and do not always capture the full picture of voter sentiment or candidate prospects. But over time, patterns emerge.

An analysis of Gallup polls shows that in 19 past presidential elections, from 1936 to 2012, the eventual winner was ahead nationally by June — or, in some of the earlier races, by the first time the polls were taken — in 14 of those elections.

And of the last nine elected presidents going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower, every incumbent who had a 50 percent or higher approval rating won re-election. Every incumbent who was under 50 percent lost, with one exception: President Barack Obama in 2012, whose first-term average was 49 percent. Mr. Biden is at 38 percent.

“People associated with the administration are beating their heads against the wall saying, ‘Why aren’t they giving us any credit?’” said Whit Ayers, another veteran Republican pollster.

“But even if they did give him credit, voters think he is too old to serve effectively in a second term,” Mr. Ayers said, citing recent polling by ABC that demonstrates concerns over the 81-year-old president’s age.

The Biden campaign believes there is still time to promote the president’s accomplishments and draw a contrast with Mr. Trump. And, for now, the on-the-record approach by the campaign is to dismiss the noise of polling outright. “The only consistency in recent public polls is inconsistency,” Geoff Garin, another Biden campaign pollster, said in a statement released to reporters on Monday.

According to the polling released on Monday, Mr. Biden is lagging behind Mr. Trump in three crucial Sun Belt states: Arizona, Nevada and Georgia. While neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Biden has an easy road to 270 electoral votes to win the election, pollsters believe Mr. Biden has a narrow path through Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, three northern and largely white states where he must prove that his economic policies have been successful.

“That matters more, particularly in Michigan, which has been through hell in the last 20 years,” Mr. Luntz said. “If he can show he brought the state back to his feet, that’s really powerful.”

If he were Mr. Biden, he said, “I would live there. I would just move there.”

Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said in a statement that the president would be addressing issues ranging from the economy to Mr. Trump’s behavior in the months ahead.

“President Biden is running on a popular agenda for all Americans and to finish the job on the issues that American people demand action on,” Mr. Munoz said. “Donald Trump, meanwhile, is running a campaign of revenge and retribution and on an extreme, dangerous agenda that is overwhelmingly unpopular. That is the choice voters will face in November, and that is the choice we will be defining for the American people every day between now and then.”

Peter Baker and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.



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