Biden’s fraying coalition and Trump’s struggle with moderates: AP data shows nominees’ challenges

Mar 13, 2024, 11:00 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have secured their party’s nominations for president, setting up a rematch of the 2020 election.

While both men sailed through the primary season, their paths to a win in November will be more difficult.

An analysis of survey data from AP VoteCast highlights the two men’s electoral challenges as they square up for a second contest. Polling from throughout Biden’s time in office reveals a widespread sense of disappointment with Biden’s performance as president, even among some of his most stalwart supporters, including Black adults. That’s a sign that his winning coalition may be fraying and that as a result, Biden will need to work to build enthusiasm about his candidacy within his own base as well as among the moderates who helped propel him to victory in 2020.

Meanwhile, Trump, who has perennially struggled to broaden his appeal beyond his base, won his party’s nomination with limited support from moderates and independents. That shortcoming wasn’t an issue for the conservative GOP primary electorate, but it could turn into a bigger problem as Trump looks to November when those voters could play a pivotal role in deciding the election.

Some of Biden’s most important groups are unhappy with his performance as president

The Democratic coalition that sent Biden to the White House came in with high hopes about his presidency — which may have been a double-edged sword. AP-NORC polling shows that three years after Biden took office, the share of U.S. adults who approve of the way he’s handling his job as president has fallen more than 20 percentage points, from 61% in early 2021 to 38% last month.

Nearly all Democrats, 97%, approved of Biden’s job performance in an AP-NORC poll conducted in February 2021. That’s down to 74% now, with even lower ratings when it comes to immigration and his handling of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. And it includes substantial erosion among some of Biden’s most important constituencies. Only about half of Black adults have approved of Biden’s job performance in recent months, down from 94% in early 2021 — a huge decline in satisfaction among a cornerstone of the Democratic coalition.

Biden’s approval rating has also fallen at least 20 percentage points among Hispanic adults, independents, young adults and moderates. According to last month’s AP-NORC poll, he’s now underwater among all four groups.

The economy has been a particular thorn in Biden’s side since 2022, when inflation hit a 40-year high. Broad discontent over rising prices is reflected in Biden’s approval regarding the economy: Just 34% approve in the latest AP-NORC poll, AP-NORC poll released last month found that 57% of U.S. adults think the national economy has gotten worse since Biden took office.

Trump showed weakness among moderates in the early primaries and caucuses

Although Trump won resoundingly in almost every state, the conservative Republican primary electorate is very different from the broader array of voters Trump will be trying to win over in November.

Unlike Biden’s struggle with falling approval, Trump’s challenge as president was an approval rating that started low and stayed low, with the bulk of his support coming from his Republican base. His post-presidency favorability rating has been similarly sticky: 36% of U.S. adults had a favorable view of Trump in January 2021, which was essentially unchanged in the recent February poll. And despite Biden’s apparent weakness with Black and Hispanic adults, only about one-quarter of Black adults and about 4 in 10 Hispanic adults had a favorable view of Trump in February, which could make it harder for him to capitalize on those potential shortcomings.

There are serious risks for Trump if he can’t broaden his appeal beyond his Republican base this time around. He lost moderates to Biden in 2020, and the first head-to-head Republican contests showed continued signs of trouble for Trump among these voters.

According to VoteCast surveys of the 2024 Republican primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Trump won only about 3 in 10 independents in each state. His support from moderate Republicans was a little higher but still notably tepid: Between 46% and 51% of this group backed him in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Those groups were more skeptical than conservative Republicans (who overwhelmingly supported Trump in all three states) about Trump’s ability to win a general election or govern as president. Roughly 6 in 10 moderate Republicans in New Hampshire and South Carolina were concerned that Trump is too extreme to win a general election, while 4 in 10 moderate Republicans in South Carolina said Trump doesn’t have the mental capability to govern effectively as president.

Trump could have his best chance with white, moderate voters without a college degree. Those voters represent one of Trump’s primary constituencies — but he split voters in this group who identify as moderates by a margin of 48% to 50% in the last election. Biden’s previous appeal to moderates of all backgrounds could cause problems for Trump.

A significant share of centrist Republicans have also indicated that they might not be willing to vote for Trump in the general election. Between 29% and 37% of Republican moderates in the early contests said they wouldn’t vote for Trump if he became the nominee.

But while moderates are a relatively small share of the GOP electorate, they are crucial in general elections. About one-third of voters in the 2020 election identified as moderates. About half of those moderate voters identify as Democrats, with about one-third being Republicans.

And Trump now has less than a year to win over a group of voters who were less inclined to support him in 2020. According to AP VoteCast surveys from 2020, 62% of moderate voters backed Biden, while only about one-third, or 36%, voted for Trump.

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Biden’s fraying coalition and Trump’s struggle with moderates: AP data shows nominees’ challenges