As we enter the new year and now stand 19 days until Biden’s inauguration, a look back at the primary and general election results show Biden broke many supposed political rules on his way to becoming the 46th president of the United States.
Biden finished more than 2 points behind the third place finisher (Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren).
More amazing is what happened next: Biden got blown out in the New Hampshire primary.
In pretty much any other year, a fourth place finish in Iowa and a fifth place finish in New Hampshire would spell doom for a presidential candidate.
That’s especially the case when Biden followed up his Iowa and New Hampshire showings with a distant second place finish in the Nevada caucuses.
Of course, winning a primary is just step one in the equation to becoming president. You have to win a general election as well.
It’s difficult to understate how hard it is to beat an incumbent, no matter the circumstance.
But Trump’s economic approval rating matched the winners.
Biden did so in part because he was trusted more to deal with the coronavirus. The ability of the pandemic to shape the general election campaign was unprecedented in modern times. It just goes to show that no campaign has a historical analogy that works perfectly.
A look at the historical record reveals that no one was elected president with anywhere near this great of a deficit on the very favorable score to his opponent since the question was first posed in 1980.
Trump’s problem was he ended up eliciting far more strongly negative feelings than Biden. His very negative rating in that aforementioned NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll stood at 49% to Biden’s 33%. No president before Trump was disliked as strongly as he was heading into reelection. It proved to be the difference.
Again, Biden broke the mold.
Biden proved that he was the vanilla ice cream of 2020. Voters may not have loved him, but they liked him. His overall favorable rating (which combines very and somewhat favorable) was consistently bigger than Trump’s.
Perhaps more importantly, Biden proved to be in the right place at the right time. Trump couldn’t paint Biden as the boogeyman in the same way he did with Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden gave voters an off-ramp from a president that many really didn’t like.
Put another way, Biden did what he said out to do. In an era of deep polarization, Biden was able to avoid it enough to bring down the most polarizing president of our lifetimes.