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Poll: Biden's standing improves, while Trump slumps with Republican voters

In this file photo, President Biden smiles as he speaks after touring the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company facility under construction in Phoenix, on Dec. 6, 2022.
Ross D. Franklin
/
AP
In this file photo, President Biden smiles as he speaks after touring the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company facility under construction in Phoenix, on Dec. 6, 2022.

President Biden is seeing his highest approval ratings in almost a year, while former President Donald Trump, who is hoping to take the job back, is getting his worst scores among potential Republican voters in years, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

The survey — conducted last week, after the president's State of the Union address — of more than 1,300 adults and about 1,200 registered voters comes as the 2024 Republican presidential primary is heating up. And there are clear pictures emerging of who potential Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis voters are, as a majority of potential Republican voters continue to say they would be better off with someone other than Trump at the top of the ticket.

DeSantis, at this point, is at least a co-front-runner for the nomination. His support skews more toward Republicans with college degrees, who make more money and live in cities and suburbs, as opposed to Trump's more blue-collar, rural appeal. Their distinct lanes could make for a protracted GOP primary if DeSantis ultimately decides to get into the race.

Biden is widely expected to seek reelection despite his age. At 80, he is the oldest person to serve as president. As inflation stretches Americans' wallets and after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, he has struggled with middling approval ratings.

He bottomed out at 36% in July of last year, as independents soured on him, and Democrats were unenthusiastic about his presidency. But Biden has made steady improvement since then, and this month, he is up to 46% approval with all respondents and an even higher 49% with registered voters.

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That's good news for the president. The 46% is his highest mark since March of last year, and he hasn't been at 49% since the Afghanistan withdrawal in August of 2021. He's benefiting in the survey from a rebound with Democrats, and in this hyperpartisan atmosphere, a president needs his base shored up.

One warning sign, however, is that Biden still is lagging with independents — just 36% of them approve of the job he's doing.

Improved confidence in Biden for 2024

For months, Democrats have not been sure that Biden was their best shot at winning in 2024.

Lots of surveys, including Marist's, have shown that members of Biden's own party think he's too old and they'd have a better chance of winning the White House with someone else, although there's been little agreement on who that should be.

Back in November — right before the midterms — 54% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they had a better chance with someone else.

That's changed in this survey. Now, 50% say they have the best chance with Biden, while 45% think the best chance lies with a different candidate.

The biggest shifts are coming from whites without college degrees, those who make less than $50,000 a year, voters under 45 and women who live in small cities or the suburbs. All are key target demographic groups, who helped Biden win in 2020. They're the kinds of voters he peeled away from Trump, who made inroads with these groups in 2016.

Why is this happening?

Let's start with the fact that these are Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, so they're at least open to Biden's message. But three potential reasons:

  • Democrats had better than expected midterm elections.
  • Biden's State of the Union address had to give at least some of these potential Democratic voters more confidence in his ability to carry the message forward.
  • This is likely also part of the normal coalescing around a nominee, as it becomes more and more apparent that Biden will run for reelection.
  • What about other Democrats?

    Biden's favorability rating with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents stands at 83% favorable, 13% unfavorable, or +70.

    That's significantly better than Vice President Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg or Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who the poll also tested.

  • Buttigieg: 63%/12% (+51) with 25% unsure. This represents a net 10-point improvement for Buttigieg since September 2019 during his run for president when 36% were unsure. He also gets a 48%/19% score with Democratic-leaning independents, showing he's far-less disliked with the group than Vice President Harris. (Biden gets a 71%/25% rating with them.)
  • Harris: 63%/21% (+42) with 16% unsure. That's not much different than where she was in September 2019 (56%/17%). While she has a marginally higher positive score with Democrats than Buttigieg (69% vs. 66%), Democratic-leaning independents give her just a 43%/39% score.
  • Whitmer: 42%/19% (+23) with 49% unsure. A significant portion of the national audience is unfamiliar with her.
  • The mirror images of Trump and DeSantis

    Things don't look quite as good for Trump, as he faces what's shaping up to be a serious threat to his quest to be the GOP nominee again next year.

    By a 54% to 42%, Republicans and independents who lean their direction said they think they would have a better chance in 2024 with someone other than Trump. That's actually a slight improvement for Trump, considering 35% in November said Trump would give them the best chance at winning.

    Still, the percentage saying they would be better off with someone else hasn't budged. And there are clear cleavages — voters with college degrees, ones who make more than $50,000 a year and parents with children under 18 are far more likely to say they'd be better off with someone else, by 20 points or more in some cases.

    That means a majority of Republicans are looking around for someone else, and the very people who think they have less of a chance with Trump seem to have DeSantis in the sights.

    Look at how their favorability ratings among Republicans and Republican leaners divide:

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  • Trump: 68% favorable, 25% unfavorable (+43) with just 7% unsure. He does best with white evangelical Christians, whites without degrees, those who live in small towns or rural areas, and lower-income voters.
  • DeSantis: 66%/11% (+55) with almost a quarter unsure (23%). So DeSantis has some convincing to do. Depending on how he makes the sale, if he runs, he may have some room to grow. He is best liked by college grads, those who make more than $50,000 a year, people who live in big cities or the suburbs, and Republican-leaning independents. DeSantis is significantly better liked with those Republican leaners with a 63%/11% favorability rating (+52) as compared to Trump's 57%/33% (+24).
  • Haley: 41%/12% (+23) with almost half (46%) unsure. The former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations under Trump got into the race officially last week but still has a lot to prove to these voters.
  • Pence: 51%/30% (+21) with 19% unsure. Pence's base is supposed to be with white evangelical Christians. It's a major reason for why Trump put him on the ticket in 2016. But Pence is far less liked by the group than either Trump or DeSantis.

  • The live caller telephone survey, using cellphones and landlines, of more than 1,300 adults and about 1,200 registered was conducted last week by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, well after the president's State of the Union address. Where all adults are referred to, the survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points, meaning results could be about 3 points lower or higher. Where registered voters are referenced, it has a similar +/- 3.5 percentage point margin of error.

    There were 570 Democrats and independents who lean Democratic. Where they're referenced, it's a +/- 5.1 percentage point margin. There were 460 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents interviewed. The margin for this subgroup is +/- 5.7 percentage points.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.