Donald Trump Struggles To Hurt Joe Biden From the Outside, Looking In

Donald Trump's incessant criticism of Joe Biden might delight his supporters, but seems to be doing little to alter wider opinion of his successor or to boost his own image beyond those who already back him.

Trump mentioned Biden and his administration—branding this "a complete and total catastrophe"—29 times at his rally in Wellington, Ohio, on Saturday.

This follows a trend of harsh words leveled at Biden by the former president, who has regularly critiqued the Democratic commander-in-chief throughout his tenure so far—marking a continuation of insults slung during the election campaign.

But while Trump's inflammatory words garner attention, and energize those who remain loyal to him, polling indicates a limited impact from this barrage against Biden.

The president's approval rating has remained over 50 percent throughout his time in the White House so far, according to a FiveThirtyEight tracker accounting for numerous polls. At present, it sits at 52.7 percent.

YouGov/The Economist polling, meanwhile, has tracked the popularity of both Biden and Trump.

Biden's figures from the first survey taken after his inauguration on January 20 to the latest polling remain largely consistent.

Polling conducted January 24 to 26 showed overall 53 percent of those asked had a favorable opinion of Biden—29 percent very favorable and 24 percent somewhat. While 42 percent had an unfavorable opinion, 13 percent somewhat and 29 percent very.

In the latest polling, carried out June 20 to 21, Biden's numbers were similar.

Overall, 50 percent had a favorable opinion with 29 percent very and 21 percent somewhat. Then 43 percent had an unfavorable opinion, 31 percent very and 12 percent somewhat.

While Biden's numbers have remained similar, Trump's have also plateaued.

In the June polling, 41 percent said they had a favorable opinion of him—24 percent very and 17 percent somewhat. In the January polling, this was similar with 40 percent favorable—27 percent very and 13 somewhat.

The January polling had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent, while the June polling was plus or minus 2.7 percent. Each set of polling was conducted among 1,500 U.S. adults.

As Trump continues to hint at running in 2024, the polling indicates public perception of him and Biden—who expects he will run for a second term—remains in favor of the Democratic president.

Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics, told Newsweek the consistency in the pair's numbers is likely due to each being "known quantities." People have had plenty of opportunity to form opinions of each—with Trump having only left the White House in January, and having been a well-known figure ahead of his political career, and Biden having been a regular fixture in American politics, previously as a senator and vice president, for decades.

"It's not surprising that support for both Trump and Biden remain relatively rigid in the polls. Both are such known quantities that voters knew what they are getting in 2020, and in a possible rematch, it would certainly be the same," Gift said.

However, he suggested that as of now it is too early to make predictions over a potential rematch—with circumstances still able to change in the time between now and 2024.

He continued: "At the same time, that doesn't guarantee that a future race would end with Trump on the losing side. Even setting aside the possibility that Biden might not run again, the possibility of unexpected events over the next several years—such as an economic downturn, a foreign policy crisis, or scandals within the White House—could be enough to swing enough voters to Trump's side.

"It's also important to remember that most polls conceal the all-important metric of voter enthusiasm. If Trump voters are more motivated to cast their ballot after four years of having their candidate out of office, that could tip the election in a different direction next time. All in all, it's too early to make any predictions."

Justin Buchler, associate professor at Case Western Reserve University's Department of Political Science, referred to Trump's approval figures throughout his presidency—highlighting that they stuck in a "historically narrow range." According to FiveThirtyEight's tracker, Trump's peak in approval was at 45.5 percent around the start of his presidency and its nadir was 36.9 percent. It generally stayed in the low 40s.

Buchler attributed this in part to the "hardening of partisan polarization in the electorate" and also "the uniquely polarizing nature of Trump's personality."

Such factors will continue to be at play for Biden during his stint in the White House, Buchler told Newsweek.

"It is too early to tell how President Biden's polling will compare to that over the course of his administration, since either a rally effect or a disaster might push his numbers dramatically above or below its current range, but the partisan polarization that established boundaries for Trump's poll numbers will also continue to operate for Biden," Buchler said.

He suggested that without a major event to swing opinion of Biden one way or another, his ratings will likely remain steady—regardless of partisan messaging from Trump.

Buchler continued: "However, a 'rally 'round the flag' effect could boost his poll numbers above that range, is it did for George W. Bush after 9/11, or a disaster could cause a collapse akin to what we saw with Richard Nixon during Watergate, or George W. Bush during the collapse of the financial system

"Unless something big happens, Democrats will continue to support President Biden, Republicans will oppose him, there are only ever about 10 to 15 percent of the electorate who are true independents, and that means partisan messaging rarely matters. So, whatever Donald Trump says will likely have no effect, either on President Biden, or his own potential electoral fortunes."

John Owens, a professor of U.S. government and politics at the University of Westminster, also told Newsweek that partisanship highly constrains approval ratings—which accounts somewhat for them staying relatively level.

"It's important to recall that hyper-partisanized polarization characterizes contemporary U.S. politics and government—which means that voters for the party out of power intensely oppose the president. Partisanship heavily constrains a president's approval ratings in today's context," Owens said.

For Trump to boost his popularity, Biden's ratings would need to drop below 50 percent—a figure he has been consistently above throughout his tenure—Owens said.

"Only if Biden's popularity drops below 50 percent—say, if the economy tanks—will we know whether Trump will increase his ratings. I suspect neither will happen," Owens said.

Owens also highlighted other factors he suggested could depress Trump's ratings and maintain Biden's—highlighting their ratings on handling the COVID-19 pandemic as one.

Biden has rated higher than Trump in polling on this point thus far.

"What hurt Trump most was his incompetent and chaotic response to COVID, which has been the top issue for voters for the last 15 months," Owens said.

Owens said people will remember this, while their perception could also be shaped by the violence of January 6 and the criticism of Trump's actions surrounding that day.

Regardless of this though and of future events, Owens suggested partisanship is generally the main factor impacting the numbers.

"The interplay between Americans' views of a president's performance on specific issues and their views of the same president's overall performance is complex, inconsistent and heavily influenced by partisanship. Voters might largely approve of Biden's handling of COVID, but the virus isn't the only issue that matters to them—and partisanship trumps most other factors," Owens said.

"Nonetheless, partisanship notwithstanding, performing well on a big issue in the eyes of most voters still helps presidential approval ratings, both in terms of overall popularity and electorally. But partisanship and other issues limit the effect."

Richard Johnson, lecturer in U.S. politics and policy at Queen Mary University of London, similarly told Newsweek he expects Biden's ratings will remain steady—citing how those of his latest predecessors, Trump and former President Barack Obama, remained consistent throughout their time in the White House.

"Barack Obama and Donald Trump had highly stable approval ratings compared to past presidents, especially after their first few months in office. Due to intense partisan polarization this is likely to be the case for Joe Biden as well," Johnson said.

"The United States remains closely but strongly divided. Trump's approval ratings remained in the high 30s/low 40s for his entire presidency. It is quite possible Biden's approval ratings could float in the low 50s/high 40s for much of his presidency. I'm not convinced much will change this."

Johnson, however, suggested while Biden's approval rating is relatively buoyant, his disapproval is also quite high. FiveThirtyEight's tracker latest figure puts this at 41.9 percent.

"This may be where Trump is making a difference," Johnson said. "Negative partisanship—hostility towards the opposing party—is even stronger now than it was under Obama."

While Trump rallies may not further change perceptions of Biden or boost the former president more widely, there is still some logic to holding them—maintaining the support he does have within the GOP. While he has yet to confirm a 2024 run, he has regularly hinted at one—and remains a frontrunner for the Republican nomination should he go for it.

"With an eye to the 2024 Republican primaries, Trump needs to stay the darling of the party grassroots. Holding rallies before crowds of the faithful in pro-Trump territory is one way to ensure his supporters continue to feel 'loved' by him," Johnson said.

Newsweek has contacted the office of the former president and the White House for comment on Trump and Biden's comparable ratings.

donald trump and joe biden split image
Former President Donald Trump has frequently criticized his successor President Joe Biden, but despite this the Democratic commander-in-chief's poll ratings have remained steady. Scott Olson/Doug Mills/Getty Images and Getty Images/New York Times/Pool