Byron York: The ‘Biden bump’ that didn’t last long

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 5, 2024

By Byron York

“The election is clearly changing now, moving towards Biden,” the influential Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg declared on March 26. “The Biden bump is real.” For Republicans, Rosenberg is someone worth listening to; he was right about the nonexistent “red wave” that many in the GOP expected back in 2022. When he said the election was moving, it was worth noting.

Now, though, the situation is a little more complicated. Ever since President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 7 — the one in which he appeared to shout much of the time to prove his vigor — Democrats have been hoping for a Biden surge. A lot of that was just wish-casting; it simply did not make sense to many Democrats that former President Donald Trump could be under four indictments, and starting trial in one case, and still be leading Biden. It just seemed too crazy to accept. But it was true. 

Then, in late March and early April, Biden did rise a bit in the polls. According to the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Trump has led Biden in head-to-head matchups since September 2023. (They were tied for one brief moment in October.) During his March-April “bump,” Biden’s deficit shrank, coming within two-tenths of a point of catching Trump. Democratic hopes rose.

“Biden’s position in the polls is improving against Trump,” declared the polling analyst Nate Silver on April 18. “It looks to me like Biden’s numbers against Trump have improved by a hair, probably to a degree that isn’t just statistical noise.” Even a slight improvement was like manna from heaven for Democrats and their allies in the media.

Alas, it didn’t last long. On Sunday came a poll from CNN that was simply devastating for the president’s reelection hopes. Remember, a poll is just a freeze frame of the race at this moment. It doesn’t mean things won’t change in the future. But it gives us an idea of where things stand right now. And the CNN poll showed Biden’s standing deteriorating before our eyes.

The headline was that the poll showed Trump with a 6-point lead over Biden, 49 percent to 43 percent, in a head-to-head national matchup. And, as of now at least, many voters say they have made up their minds. When the pollsters asked respondents who did not support Biden whether there is any chance they might eventually vote for Biden, 52 percent said there is “no chance whatsoever” they would vote to reelect the president. When pollsters asked people who did not support Trump whether there is any chance they might eventually vote for Trump, 47 percent said there is “no chance whatsoever” they will vote for Trump. That suggests a lot of people have very strong feelings which they do not expect to change.

Another problem for Biden was that the poll was taken from April 18 to 23, when Trump’s trial in Manhattan was underway and the subject of wall-to-wall news reports. So voters knew about it — they couldn’t avoid it — and more of them still preferred Trump to Biden.

Even more damaging for Biden was that, when asked to assess both the Trump and Biden presidencies, 55 percent of those surveyed called Trump’s presidency a success, while 61 percent called Biden’s presidency a failure. This is a unique election in which both candidates have been president of the United States. That means the voters can make an apples-to-apples comparison, and it doesn’t look good for Biden.

Two more national polls have come out in the 48 hours since the CNN survey was released. A Harvard-Harris poll had Trump leading Biden by 4 points, 52 percent to 48 percent, while a Morning Consult poll had the two candidates tied at 43 percent. 

The RealClearPolitics average of polls, which a couple of weeks ago showed the race nearly tied, now shows Trump ahead of Biden by 1.4 percentage points. It’s not much of a lead by any means, but it has lasted for more than six months. And then there is Trump’s bigger lead in some of the key states that could decide the election.

Again, it’s all polls. But note this, from the RealClearPolitics analyst Sean Trende: “Polls are just snapshots in time. The problem is that the political science literature is pretty consistent that this is the time when the electorate’s views about the election start to harden, particularly with respect to the economy.” So public opinion can be volatile, but after a while, it is not. And remember that where the economy is concerned, voters believe Biden has done a terrible job. Put it all together, and while yes, there is a lot of time left, there are also lots of reasons for Biden to be worried.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner. For a deeper dive into many of the topics Byron covers, listen to his podcast, The Byron York Show, available on the Ricochet Audio Network at and everywhere else podcasts are found.