The 2024 Presidential Primaries: A Battle of Unfavorability
The 2024 presidential primaries are currently in full swing, painting a vivid picture of the political landscape. President Joe Biden stands as the predominant favorite for the Democratic nomination, while former President Donald Trump maintains a firm grip as the front-runner in the race for the Republican nod.
An Unwanted Dilemma: The Unfavorable Choice
This situation, however, casts a considerable portion of Americans into an unwelcome quandary. A historically significant number of citizens find themselves in an unenviable position—dissatisfied with the choices before them. This prevailing sentiment underscores a stark reality: an unprecedented proportion of Americans harbor unfavorable opinions about both Biden and Trump at this juncture.
Diving into the Numbers: A Landscape of Disapproval
A recent poll conducted by CNN/SSRS in the past month captures the essence of this widespread discontent. The poll reveals that a substantial portion of Americans view neither Biden nor Trump favorably. Surprisingly, a significant 36% of respondents hold an unfavorable view of both candidates. In comparison, 33% express a favorable opinion of Trump, with 32% doing the same for Biden. Focusing solely on registered voters, the statistics show that 31% hold an unfavorable view of both candidates.
Delving Deeper: A Dual Unfavorable Sentiment
Analyzing the data even further, the statistics expose a striking fact. Among those who hold unfavorable opinions of both Biden and Trump (excluding those who are unsure or neutral), 22% of adults and 21% of registered voters share this dual unfavorable sentiment towards both men.
Reflecting on the Past: The 2016 Unpopularity Paradox
To gain perspective, let's turn back to the 2016 presidential election—a pivotal moment marked by the contest between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. This election serves as a benchmark for candidate unlikability. In a rare twist, both candidates garnered more dislike than favor on Election Day.
The final pre-election CNN poll for that campaign reveals that 16% of registered voters held an unfavorable view of both Trump and Clinton. When accounting for those who were neutral or without an opinion, the number of respondents who viewed neither nominee favorably rose to 19%.
Trends in Motion: A Change in Favorability Dynamics
Examining the usual norms in American elections, a significant majority of voters typically express favorable opinions about at least one of the candidates vying for the presidency. This pattern has been consistent throughout polling history.
In the final 2020 CNN poll, only a mere 5% of voters conveyed unfavorable opinions of both Biden and Trump. The numbers were even lower in the final CNN poll of the 2012 campaign, where just 3% of voters held unfavorable views of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
Anticipating Change: The Evolution of Sentiment
It's important to note that we are still over a year away from the 2024 election. Thus, the landscape remains subject to shifts and changes.
However, history indicates that as campaigns progress, negativity often takes center stage—resulting in shifts for the worse.
Comparing the current 2024 polling data to the same point in the 2016 campaign reveals even more remarkable differences. Trump's favorable rating among registered voters in this month's poll nearly matches his favorable rating in CNN's July 2015 survey (34%). In contrast, Clinton's favorable rating was significantly higher, reaching 44% in the 2015 survey, with an unfavorable rating of 49%. Meanwhile, Biden's latest poll indicates a favorable rating of 32% among adults and 35% among registered voters, accompanied by an unfavorable rating of 56% within both groups.
Neither Trump nor Biden seems to be anywhere close to positive territory this election cycle, and this pattern is consistent across various polls, not just outliers. The cumulative polling data so far indicates that both men hold favorable ratings below 40% and unfavorable ratings hovering around the mid-50s.
Evaluating the Polls: Consistent Unfavorability
A May poll by CNN revealed that 23% of voters held an unfavorable view of both candidates. Similarly, in the last three polls conducted by Quinnipiac University among registered voters, the percentage of the electorate viewing neither candidate favorably ranged from 22% to 28%, averaging at 24%.
The closest semblance of a positive rating over an unfavorable one was observed in Quinnipiac's June poll for Biden. His favorable rating stood at 42%, with an unfavorable rating of 54%.
The Path Forward: Implications of Unpopularity
In light of these revelations, what would be the ramifications if both Biden and Trump continue to maintain their unpopularity? It's possible that primary voters might seek alternate candidates for the presidential nomination. However, among Democrats, Biden lacks a primary competitor with a comparable favorable rating. Even Trump's most formidable challenger at this point, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, finds himself with a net unfavorable rating within the general electorate.
Should Biden and Trump enter the general election with such low approval ratings, the door could potentially open for a third-party candidate. Notably, Ross Perot's independent bid for the White House in 1992 gained momentum due to the low favorable ratings of both Democratic challenger Bill Clinton and Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush.
A similar scenario played out in 2016, where the cumulative share of votes outside the two major parties exceeded 5% for the first time in 25 years, largely driven by the unfavorable ratings of Hillary Clinton and Trump.
In essence, the potential repercussions loom large if both major parties nominate unpopular candidates. A considerable number of voters might refuse to settle for a major-party candidate they hold in disfavor.