Nov 7, 2023

Trump polling ahead of Biden in swing states.

Image: Gage Skidmore
Image: Gage Skidmore

Plus, will Ukraine pay us back the money we are sending them?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

The latest polls show former President Trump handily beating President Biden in five critical swing states. What does it mean? Plus, a question about Ukraine funding.

Quick hits.

  1. Voters across the U.S. will be casting ballots in gubernatorial and state House races today. Elections are also being held on ballot measures related to abortion and marijuana, as well as an election on a crucial Pennsylvania Supreme Court seat. Some of the most closely watched elections are taking place in Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. (The races)
  2. Israel says it killed a Hamas commander and captured a Hamas compound. It has now encircled Gaza City, and continues to push Gazan civilians toward the south. (The latest)
  3. Former President Trump testified for nearly four hours in his civil fraud trial yesterday, frequently sparring with the presiding judge and arguing asset valuations are mostly subjective. (The hearing
  4. President Biden announced more than $16 billion in new funding for 25 Amtrak passenger rail projects between Boston and Washington, D.C. (The funding)
  5. David Weiss, the federal prosecutor who is leading the investigation into Hunter Biden, will testify before a House congressional committee today. (The testimony)

Today's topic.

The latest 2024 polls. One year out from the 2024 presidential election, former President Donald Trump is polling ahead of President Joe Biden in five of the six swing states expected to determine the election outcome. The numbers come from the latest New York Times and Siena College poll released over the weekend, which showed Trump with a lead in Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — all states Biden won in 2020. Biden led only in Wisconsin.

The poll of 3,662 registered voters sent ripples through the political world, showing President Biden trailing Trump by 10 points in Nevada, 6 points in Georgia, 5 in Arizona and Michigan, 4 in Pennsylvania and was leading by 2 points in Wisconsin. The margin of error is 2 points when all the polls are combined and 4.8 points for individual states.

Among voters' top concerns about Biden is his age. 71% of all respondents, and 54% of Biden supporters, said the 80-year-old Biden is "too old" to be president. 39% of those voters felt the same about the 77-year-old Trump, which was roughly the same number who said Biden was too old in 2020, when he was also 77. In a new development, Biden was also polling considerably behind generic and alternative Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris.

While Trump leads Biden by about 5 points across the states, a generic, unnamed Democrat leads Trump by 8 points, amounting to a 13-point difference. The poll continues a trend of Biden losing support among younger Hispanic and Black voters in swing states. His nonwhite support dropped 33 points compared to 2022, and Trump's support among registered black voters rose to 22 points in the swing states. Biden's most hardened support is now among old and white voters, the same demographic that helped Trump get elected in 2016.

All told, if the 2024 election were held today, the poll indicates Trump would achieve a dominant victory with over 300 electoral votes.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions to the poll from the right and left, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is concerned by Biden’s poll numbers, especially among young voters. 
  • Some say his best strategy is to start campaigning hard on the threat Trump poses to American democracy.
  • Others think there is still plenty of time for Biden and his campaign to reverse course. 

In The New York Times, John Della Volpe, a pollster for Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, said “Joe Biden is in trouble.”

“Young Americans voted not just against Mr. Trump in 2020; millions believed in Mr. Biden’s vision and shared his values. If and when Mr. Trump becomes the Republican nominee, these voters will be reminded on social media and elsewhere of the many, many things they dislike about the former president and also of their indispensable role in helping Mr. Biden usher in an era of progress that brought the first Black woman to the Supreme Court and the largest investment in climate action in U.S. history,” Della Volpe wrote. 

“But unless Gen Zers and millennials believe that Mr. Biden has their backs… I fear enough young people won’t back him. Many may choose to take their politics offline instead or support an alternative who will do nothing more than open the door for Mr. Trump’s return,” Della Volpe said. “Now is not the time for a play-it-safe Rose Garden strategy.” Many young Americans have been politically engaged by the Israel-Palestine conflict, and are  seeking “an opportunity to feel good about their president, their country and their future again.”

In New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore suggested “Biden needs to go very negative on Trump” or risk losing to him in 2024. 

“It’s possible that conditions in the country (and the world) will improve enough over the next year that a second Biden term will seem a safer choice than more MAGA; that’s more or less how Biden won in 2020. But it’s not a great bet, and the stakes for getting 2024 wrong will be terrible and long-lasting,” Kilgore said. “What needs to happen is that the horror of left-of-center (and some right-of-center) elites toward a second Trump presidency be communicated regularly and loudly to voters who should but do not share that horror.”

“Biden need not violate the constitution nor even cut corners to win reelection. But he does need to abandon the bland reassurance that has been his political signature as president and begin making the 2024 election a choice voters cannot avoid,” Kilgore added. “The sentiment does need to be expressed early and often to those whose unhappiness with this or that aspect of the Biden presidency might lead them to help usher in an authoritarian regime they would like a whole lot less.”

In CNN, Dean Obeidallah argued “Democrats shouldn’t despair over concerning new polls about Biden.”

The NYT/Siena poll numbers are “alarming and a bit distressing. But they should not cause panic,” Obeidallah wrote. “Why not panic? There are a few reasons. First, President Barack Obama faced high disapproval ratings the year before the 2012 election (although not as high as Biden’s). And a number of early national polls suggested a close race between Obama and Mitt Romney, who would go on to be the GOP’s presidential nominee. While Obama led in some surveys at the time, a CNN/ORC poll in November 2011 found Romney with a 4-point edge.”

“We all get that Obama and Biden are not the same candidates. But what is instructive is that Obama won in large part by way of a superior ground game in terms of ensuring that voters who supported him actually did cast a ballot. Biden — who was Obama’s vice president — is obviously well aware of this. And given Biden’s ability so far to outraise Trump in terms of campaign donations, his campaign has more resources to invest robustly in this key part of the campaign.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right thinks the latest poll numbers are in line with the sentiment of the country and represent a broad rejection of Democratic policies.
  • Some say Biden is headed for a disastrous defeat and his advisors are at fault.
  • Others suggest there’s little the president can do to win back voters who have become disillusioned with his administration. 

The New York Post editorial board wrote “it’s not just Joe Biden: Voters are rejecting Democratic policies that hurt them.”

“Much of the anti-Biden sentiment stems from policies he and his fellow Dems have pushed to please woke elites — policies that have spelled disaster for middle- and lower-class Americans, including minorities. Indeed, three times as many voters in those states (67% vs. 22%) think the nation is headed in the ‘wrong direction,’ including heavy majorities of non-whites,” the board said. “No surprise: Dems have put woke issues like climate change and special-interest handouts (like having the taxpayers pay off student loans) over fighting inflation and making life affordable for average folks.”

“These aren’t just Biden’s policies; they’re backed by the entire Democratic Party. Indeed, Biden’s major spending bills, which launched the historic bump in inflation soon after he took office, passed without any Republican votes,” the board said. “Dems like to pretend they champion the poor and needy, but their policies stick it to just those people. Voters may not like Trump, but they’ll oppose any Dem whose woke, elitist policies hang them out to dry.”

In National Review, Noah Rothman said Biden “has gotten terrible advice” from his inner circle.

“Biden didn’t govern in quite the Rooseveltian or Johnsonite ways his admirers may have hoped. Worse, he governed like Joe Biden,” Rothman wrote. “He managed to convince his fellow Democrats to pass only some of the spending that some intrepid analysts warned, correctly, would have an inflationary effect. But Biden’s allies wanted the president to go big, and big — for good or ill — is exactly what they got.”

“Biden is staring down the barrel of a historic humiliation — the prospect of a loss to a one-term president who left office in disgrace and may be forced to campaign for the White House again with a felony conviction to his name. By all accounts, the president has been privy to a lot of bad advice. If the idea that Trump’s unsuitability will save this White House from a legacy-staining rebuke has any purchase with Biden, we must conclude that Biden is still in the market for more of the same.”

In Hot Air, David Strom suggested Biden is likely “toast.”

“The number of Biden supporters is getting smaller by the day, and many Democrats are no longer Biden supporters, although the majority will wind up voting for him if forced to. But elections are won on margins, not the absolute number of votes,” Strom said. “So Joe Biden may get nearly as many votes next year as last, with Democrats holding their nose. But will that be enough, or will a significant enough number of Biden voters stay home or vote for somebody else?

“I think the answer is no, and so do an awful lot of Democrat establishment types, who are quietly and not-so-quietly panicking right now,” Strom added. “Panic is the right word to describe what these numbers strike into the hearts of Democrat hacks, like just about every MSM journalist. The main reason Biden is flailing in the polls is something we all instinctively understand: things got better under Trump, and much worse under Biden. It really is that simple. People don’t like Trump any more than they did… But he did a much better job and as much as people dislike him, their lives got better.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • It’s still early and a lot could change, but these numbers look very bad for Biden — especially among young and nonwhite voters.
  • The biggest concern for voters is his age.
  • Voters also don’t like feeling like the world is out of control, and the way the news has been going lately does give that feeling.

First, let's start with the important qualifier that we are a year out from the election and a lot of this is subject to change. This poll doesn't come close to guaranteeing a Biden loss or Trump win. It is important to remember that polls like this — a year out from an election — often look like false signals or aberrations once the election has happened.

That being said, while there are some genuinely surprising things about these polls, nobody should be shocked that Trump is polling strongly against Biden.

I've been writing about Biden's age issue since shortly after he was elected. There was a time when questioning his fitness for office was so taboo people would leave Tangle if we referenced it at all — even to defend him. But now it is a commonly held view among the public (and even a majority of Biden’s supporters) that he should not run for re-election. The issue is not Biden’s age as a raw number, but about his public appearance (for comparison’s sake, here’s an 82-year-old Bernie Sanders). The president just looks increasingly frail, and his "senior moments" are very uncomfortable to watch. Politics is often about feel, and for many normal Americans who pay attention to politics for just a few minutes a day, Biden feels too old.

This is why people like Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) who are challenging Biden say that Democrats should have had a primary. If Biden goes into 2024 as a weak, untested candidate, the party will be relying on support for him from 2020 that might not exist in the same way anymore. That’s dangerous for Democrats, and it's why some Democrat politicians are insisting their party look elsewhere for a Trump challenger.

Which brings me to what was genuinely shocking about the poll: Just how badly Biden is polling compared to other Democrats. Even Vice President Kamala Harris, who was long considered a drag on Biden's electoral hopes, is now polling ahead of him. A generic Democrat is eight points ahead of Trump — a sign that, even in bad polls like this for Biden, the main issue is still more Biden's weakness than Trump's strength.

What Biden had going for him in 2020 was that he offered a return to normalcy. And in many ways, however you feel about his age or policies, much of his presidency has been normal. He hasn't done anything too radical and I don't think the country is spinning out of control with some headless administration.

But again: politics is about feel, and there is enough global instability to give the feeling of things spinning out of control.

For many, Trump's presidency was defined by a constant string of scandals and controversies. That impression, combined with the beginning of the pandemic and social unrest throughout 2020, was hugely beneficial to a Trump challenger — enter Biden.

But now it’s three years later, and look around: First, we had two years of inflation news. Now, there is war in the air. A prolonged conflict in Ukraine and instability in Europe. Hamas’ attack on Israel, disturbing images out of Gaza, and a hot debate about U.S. support for Israel’s military. Headlines are everywhere about the growing specter of China invading Taiwan and the Iran-Russia alignment. On top of that, there’s a migrant crisis at the border and in some major U.S. cities. And, once again, protests abound — this time pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protests on college campuses and in urban areas.

In this environment any incumbent president would struggle. But the feeling Americans get when they look at Biden appears to be the biggest obstacle, because so many people are citing his age as a factor in how they view him.

As I said, this poll is more about Biden weakness than Trump strength. But there's also this reality: Trump is not in the spotlight. Think about all those stories I mentioned that have overwhelmed the Trump stories that dominated 2016 to 2022. Now add to them the debt ceiling, Hunter Biden, UFOs, Roe v. Wade, and so on.

Part of what hurts Trump has always been his public comments and the way he handles himself on social media. But the truth is, with Trump banned from Twitter, tied up in legal troubles and largely out of the mainstream media's purview, a lot of swing voters aren't feeling the daily repercussions of his musings and absurdities. For his supporters, that is what they always wanted — for him to be less controversial and just let his record guide the conversation. Somehow, despite the unprecedented legal troubles he faces and the various controversies still swirling around his candidacy, he has organically faded into the background of a lot of people’s interest. It doesn't surprise me at all that opposition to him has softened a little bit in that environment. In the same vein, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Trump’s return to the spotlight as 2024 nears do damage to him politically.

So, what should we take from this poll? That despite Biden getting some of what he promised done, he still has a lot of work to do to energize his base about a second term. That he once again needs to win the enthusiasm of young voters, black voters, and Hispanic voters. That Trump is still a competitive presidential candidate. That maybe Biden as the 2024 Democratic candidate should not have been a foregone conclusion. And that if you are a Democrat, there is still a lot of work to do to get him re-elected.

Your questions, answered.

Q: When we give money to Ukraine (and others) for war support, are we actually lending it to them?  If so, what are the repayment terms and does it really ever get repaid?

— Vic from Severna Park, MD

Tangle: Yes, some of the aid to Ukraine is structured as an interest-bearing payment-deferred loan. Yes, we can expect that money back from Ukraine. No, that’s not going to be anytime in the near future.

Exactly how much did we send as a loan? The answer isn’t straightforward. According to the Germany-based Kiel Institute, which is a great resource for tracking funds sent to Ukraine and showing how support from the U.S. compares to other Ukrainian allies, the United States’ aid packages are much less transparent than its peers. That means there’s a lot to untangle with how they work. 

To try to clarify the answer, let’s break down the aid the U.S. has given already. Not including the $24 billion aid package currently in Congress, the United States has allocated $113.4 billion in emergency funding for the war in Ukraine. You can track that in time through authorized allocations, and in category through responsible departments.

Over time, $13.6 billion came from the Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of March 2022, $40.1 billion from the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of of May 2022, $12.4 billion from the Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of September 2022, and $47.3 billion from the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of December 2022.

By department, $61.8 billion of that aid is allocated through the Department of Defense, $36.5 billion through USAID (which is overseen by the State Department), $9.9 billion more broadly through the State Department, $3.4 through Health and Human Services, and $1.5 through other departments.

Here’s a good visualization of those funds, courtesy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Some of those funds are allocated through a loan structure authorized by the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, which passed the House 417-10 and was signed by President Biden in May of 2022. Similar to a WWII-era bill, the 2022 Lend-Lease Act allows the Department of Defense to define military equipment sent to Ukraine as a loan or a lease that needs to be repaid with interest. The act applies to only some of the $61.8 billion military portion of the total aid approved by Congress. $6.6 billion of that budget was approved before the Lend-Lease Act was passed and the authorization expired a month ago, which means that the portion of aid sent to Ukraine that the U.S. can expect back is no greater than $55.2 billion (barring future similar lend-lease approvals).

How much is that loaned portion? Unclear. Since the way military funds are allocated is hard to track, we can’t tell how much of that $55.2 billion Ukraine will be on the hook to pay back — but I wouldn’t expect that it’s the full amount. When can the U.S. expect that money back? That’s also unclear, as payments are deferred indefinitely. For what it’s worth, the U.K. is still paying back its lend-lease credit from WWII.

Under the radar.

Sensitive and personal data for thousands of active-duty and veteran U.S. military members can be purchased for as little as one cent, according to a new study from Duke University. The researchers warned that the data can be easily obtained by malicious actors and used to target former and current military personnel and their families with a myriad of schemes, including blackmail. The data obtainable on servicemembers includes their physical and email addresses, health and financial information, and even ages of some of their children. Axios has the story.


  • 45%. The percentage of likely voters who say they would be financially better off if Trump wins the presidency in 2024, according to a new CBS News/YouGov poll.
  • 18%. The percentage of likely voters who say they would be financially better off if Biden wins reelection in 2024.
  • 39%. The percentage of likely voters who say Trump’s policies as president would increase the chances of the U.S. entering a war.
  • 49%. The percentage of likely voters who say Biden’s policies as president increase the chances of the U.S. entering a war.
  • 65%. The percentage of people who said “things are going badly” in America in January 2023.
  • 73%. The percentage of people who say “things are going badly” in America today. 
  • 31%. The percentage of U.S. adults aged 18-29 who said they follow the news “all or most of the time” in March 2017, according to Pew Research.
  • 19%. The percentage of U.S. adults aged 18-29 who said they follow the news “all or most of the time” in August 2022.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered the results of Brazil's presidential election.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was once again the secrets of your two noses.
  • Scam Bank Man Fried: 624 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking what Sam Bankman-Fried's conviction tells us about the crypto space, with 45% saying that crypto is generally unsafe and requires caution. 34% said crypto is largely unsafe and should be regulated, 14% said it is generally safe but has some bad actors, and 1% said it's largely safe and that this was an isolated incident. 6% were unsure or had no opinion. "I've always wondered if crypto was really a fancy Ponzi scheme. This trial seems to say that at least some of it is," one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: The most popular dog name in each state.
  • Take the poll. If the 2024 Democratic primary were held today, who would you vote for? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

For cancer patients, the last thing they want to think about after enduring extensive hospital care, chemotherapy, or surgery is cleaning their homes. That’s where the nonprofit Cleaning for a Reason has them covered, providing free home cleanings to cancer patients so they can focus on rest and recovery instead of household chores. Since its founding in 2006, Cleaning for a Reason has partnered with 1,300 cleaning companies, served over 50,000 patients, and donated about $15 million in services — no strings attached. “Truly Free is committed to making a difference in the lives of cancer patients,” said Stephen Ezell, CEO of Truly Free. “We firmly believe that everyone, particularly those battling cancer and facing weakened immune systems due to treatment, deserves a safe and non-toxic home environment.” Good Good Good has the story.

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