Democrats are right to be spooked about November

On CNN Tuesday night, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said what many Democrats seem to be thinking: His party is in deep trouble, less than 120 days before the election.

“This race is on a trajectory that is very troubling, if you care about the future of this country,” Bennet told CNN host Kaitlan Collins. “Joe Biden was up nine points at this time — the last time he ran. Hillary Clinton was up five points. This is the first time in more than 20 years that a Republican president is in this part of the campaign.”

“Donald Trump is on track, I think, to win this election,” Bennet continued, “and maybe win it by a landslide and take the Senate and the House.”

The Biden campaign has — at least publicly — been upbeat about his position. In an interview on Monday, Biden pointed out that he had trailed in the polls in the past, referring to the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. In 2020, his campaign famously shrugged off the ire of his supporters and insisted that everything would work out in the end. And it did, albeit thanks to relatively narrow victories in a handful of swing states.

However, Bennet is right that things are much worse now than they were then. The Biden campaign’s pitch is based on the idea that voters will swing back against him as Election Day approaches and the prospect of Donald Trump’s return to the White House becomes more real. But that swing must be very large, given where the measurements sit now.

The 538 polling average indicates that the last time a Democrat did so poorly in a national election at this point in a race was in 2000, when George W. Bush had a wide lead over Al Gore. At every other corresponding point from 2004 to 2016, the Democrat led by one to six percentage points. In 2020, Biden was up nearly 10 points on Trump. Now he is two points behind.

At the state level, it doesn’t get much better. The relative lack of state opinion polls means that the averages compiled by 538 are to some extent derived from national surveys. But across the swing states — and even including Minnesota, which Biden won easily in 2020 — the race is tied, or (most often) Biden trails.

Biden held an average lead of seven points in those states at this point in 2020. He now trails by about three points on average.

It’s also worth noting that in nearly every state, the polling average shifted toward Trump as the race progressed. The final result in each state was even more favorable to the former president.

In the national poll and in those seven states, electoral margins are now an average of 10 points worse for Biden than they were at this point in 2020.

This is the sort of position that would normally prompt a campaign to commit to some dramatic change. That could certainly be in the cards for Biden’s campaign — including the rare possibility that Biden is not ultimately his party’s nominee. But there has been no apparent change since last month’s debate, a clear trigger for Trump’s improved position in national polls and for questions about whether Biden will even be on the ballot in November.

“The White House, in the time since the disastrous debate, I think, has done nothing to really show that they have a plan to win this election,” Bennet said Tuesday. “That they have a compelling plan to win in the battleground states, where we have to win, to win this election. And they have to.”

The Biden campaign’s public position has been to act as if the polls are dubious or reflect a blip — that concerns about Trump will ultimately trump concerns about Biden. Maybe they will; in an unusual election, unusual things can happen.

But it’s not hard to see why Bennet – and many others in his party – are worried.

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