With his party struggling in the midterms, his economic stewardship under fire and his overall job approval under 40%, a clear majority of Democrats in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the party should replace Joe Biden as its nominee for president in 2024.
In the November midterm election ahead, registered voters divide 47%-46% between the Republican and the Democratic candidate in their House district, historically not enough to prevent typical first-midterm losses. And one likely voter model has a 51%-46% Republican-Democratic split.
Looking two years off, just 35% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents favor Biden for the 2024 nomination; 56% want the party to pick someone else.
Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, for their part, split 47%-46% on whether Donald Trump should be their 2024 nominee -- a 20-point drop for Trump compared with his 2020 nomination.
The unpopularity of both figures may encourage third-party hopefuls, though they rarely do well.
In a head-to-head rematch, the poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds a 48%-46% Biden-Trump contest, essentially tied. Among registered voters, the numbers reverse to 46%-48%. That’s even while 52% of Americans say Trump should be charged with a crime in any of the matters in which he’s under federal investigation, similar to views after the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
On issues, the survey finds broad opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling eliminating a constitutional right to abortion and a big Democratic advantage in trust to handle the issue. But there's no sign it's impacting propensity to vote in comparison with other issues: four rank higher in importance and two of them -- the economy, overall, and inflation, specifically -- work strongly in the GOP's favor.
Biden and the midterms
The president's standing customarily is critical to his party's fortunes in midterms -- and Biden is well under water. Thirty-nine percent of Americans approve of his job performance while 53% disapprove, about where he's been steadily the past year.
Specifically on the economy, with inflation near a 40-year high, his approval rating is 36% while 57% disapprove -- a 21-point deficit.
Each election has its own dynamic but in midterm elections since 1946, when a president has had more than 50% job approval, his party has lost an average of 14 seats. When the president's approval has been less than 50% -- as Biden's is by a considerable margin now -- his party has lost an average of 37 seats.
There's one slightly better result for Biden: 40% say he's accomplished a great deal or a good amount as president, up from 35% last fall. This usually is a tepid measure; it's averaged 43% across four presidents in 11 previous polls since 1993.
There's something else the Democrats can hang on to; their current results are better than last November, when the Republicans led in national House vote preferences by 10 percentage points, 51%-41% -- the largest midterm Republican lead in ABC/Post polls dating back 40 years.
It's true, too, that national House vote polling offers only a rough gauge of ultimate seats won or lost, in what, after all, are local races, influenced by incumbency, gerrymandering, candidate attributes and local as well as national issues.
The Democrats are not without ammunition in midterm campaigning: As noted, Americans broadly reject the U.S. Supreme Court ruling eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion -- 29% support it, with 64% opposed. (Indeed, 53% strongly oppose it, compared with 21% strongly in support.)
And the public trusts the Democratic Party over the Republican Party to handle abortion by a wide 20 points. In another measure, while 31% say the Democratic Party is too permissive on abortion, many more, 50%, say the GOP is too restrictive.
But if abortion keeps the Republicans from entirely nationalizing the election around the economy, it doesn't defang the public's economic discontent.
Seventy-four percent say the economy is in bad shape, up from 58% in the spring after Biden took office. The GOP leads the Democrats by 16 points in trust to handle the economy overall and by 19 points in trust to handle inflation. Equally important, 84% call the economy a top issue in their vote for Congress and 76% say the same about inflation. Many fewer, 62%, call abortion a top issue.
Other issues also differentiate the parties. In addition to the economy, the Republicans can be expected to focus on crime in the campaigns' closing weeks; they lead by 14 points in trust to handle it, and it's highly important to 69%.
Democrats, in return, hold a wide 23-point advantage in trust to handle climate change, though it's highly important to far fewer, 50%.
The parties run closely on two other issues -- education and schools, Democrats +6, highly important to 77%; and immigration, essentially an even division, highly important to 61%.
When these are assessed as a combination of importance and party preference, inflation and the economy top the list, followed by abortion, then climate change, crime, education and immigration.
While inflation, the economy and abortion are marquee issues, one stands out for another reason: The Republicans' 14-point advantage in trust to handle crime matches its largest since 1991. Among independents, it's a whopping 34-point GOP lead.
More broadly, Americans divide evenly, 42-42%, on which party they trust more to cope with the main problems the country faces in the next few years. This compares with an average 5-point Democratic advantage on this question in more than 100 ABC/Post surveys since 1982.
A comparison with the 2018 midterms is instructive: Then, the public by 55-39% preferred to see Congress controlled by the Democrats, to act as a check on Trump, than by the Republicans, to support Trump's agenda. Today, 48% prefer a Republican Congress, to act as a check on Biden; 45%, a Democratic one, to support his agenda.
The fact that the Democrats don't trail significantly in views on party control offers them some hope, as does their lead on the abortion issue. Historically, though, given lower turnout, the Democrats need an advantage, not just parity, in pre-election estimates.
Seventy-two percent of registered voters say they're certain to vote in the congressional election in their district; slightly more, 76%, said so in October 2018, a year in which turnout hit a postwar high for a midterm.
In another gauge, 66% say voting in this election is more important to them than in past midterms, the same as in 2018.
Issues don't substantively differentiate intended turnout. For example, among registered voters who call abortion a top issue, 75% say they're certain to vote, while among those who call the economy a top issue, an almost-identical 74% say they'll vote.
Indeed, on abortion, supporters of the Supreme Court ruling are more apt than its critics to say voting is more important to them in this election than in previous midterms, 73% vs. 64%. Also, 76% of the ruling's supporters say they're certain to vote, as are 70% of its opponents.
Intention to turn out is influenced by other factors. Among all adults, it's considerably higher among whites -- 72% certain to vote -- than among Black people (55%) or Hispanics (46%) -- a result that advantages Republicans, whose support is strongest by far among whites.
Beyond differential turnout, weakness in midterm vote preference among Black and Hispanic voters may compound Democratic concerns.
While Democratic House candidates lead their Republican opponents by 61 points among Black adults who are registered to vote, that compares with at least 79-point margins in exit polls in the past four midterms.
This survey's sample of Hispanics who are registered to vote is too small for reliable analysis, but the contest among them looks much closer than recent Democratic margins -- 40 points in 2018, 27 points in 2014 and 22 points in 2010.
Republican candidates, meanwhile, show some strength among registered voters who don't have a college degree, +11 points in vote preference compared with an even split in the 2018 ABC News exit poll.
A factor: Non-college adults are 8 points more likely than those with four-year degrees to say they're not just concerned but upset about the current inflation rate. Results among other groups don't provide evidence for the hypothesis that the abortion ruling might boost the Democrats, compared with past years, among some women.
Women younger than 40 support the Democratic candidate in their district by 19 points, but did so by 43 points in the 2018 exit poll. Suburban women split about evenly between the parties (44-47% Democratic-Republican), about the same as among suburban men (45-50% Democratic-Republican).
Independent women are +5 GOP in vote preference; independent men, essentially the same, +3. Independents overall -- often a swing voter group -- divide 42-47% between Democratic and Republican candidates. This is a group that voted Democratic by 12 points in 2018 -- but Republican by 14 points in 2014 (when the GOP won 13 House seats) and by 19 points in 2010 (when the GOP won 63 seats).
Lastly, there are some milestones in Biden's approval rating. He's at new lows in approval among liberals (68%), Southerners (33%) and people in the middle- to upper-middle income range (34%). And his strong approval among Black adults -- among the most stalwart Democratic groups -- is at a career-low 31%.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Sept. 18-21, 2022, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,006 adults, including 908 registered voters. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions in the full sample are 28%-24%-41%, Democrats-Republicans-independents, and 27%-26%-40% among registered voters.