Joe Biden Is Leading in the Polls, And He Has Donald Trump to Thank

Former vice president Joe Biden is surging in polls, and he may have President Donald Trump to thank for it.

Last week the 2020 presidential candidate said that "poor kids" were as smart and talented as "white kids;" claimed he met with students who survived the shooting in Parkland, Florida, while he was vice president (the shooting occurred a year after he left office); mixed up the locations of the Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, mass shootings; confused former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Theresa May and messed up a few oft-repeated lines in his stump speech during the Iowa State Fair.

The flubs caused President Trump, who also mixed up the locations of this month's mass shootings, to comment that Biden "is not playing with a full deck." The president made the remarks while leaving the White House to attend a fundraiser in the Hamptons and a weekend at his New Jersey golf club. "This is not somebody you can have as your president," the president continued. "I watch the debates. I mean, well, Joe Biden can't answer a simple question. Something is going wrong with him."

But this week, Biden surged ahead in early primary state polling, with about 35 percent of the Democratic vote in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. That's a full 17 points ahead of the next candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has 18 percent of the vote.

Female frontrunners, meanwhile, like Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren underperformed in early states. Both candidates polled three points below where they did nationally.

Joe Biden
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden takes the stage during a forum on gun safety at the Iowa Events Center on August 10, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Stephen Maturen/Getty

At this point, Biden is surging because people think he's electable and they want someone who is able to beat Trump, said Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University School of Public Affairs and a former member of the Ohio Senate. "He has the most name recognition and he's benefiting from his long standing presence in [the] Democratic party," she said. "There's an assumption of perception that Biden is the 'most electable,' especially in Midwestern or Rust Belt states."

Long-term political observers know that Biden is prone to making "gaffes" and may have already baked that into their voting decision, explained Cafaro. Other voters don't care quite as much about outward appearance, and instead want a candidate whose policy will help strengthen their economic standing.

"President Trump is the perfect example of that," said Cafaro. "People dismiss the way he tweets and speaks because they favor his policies. He's appointed conservatives to the bench and promises a lot when it comes to the economy." The president, she said, has shifted the rules of engagement, making Biden appealing despite some missteps. "President Trump has changed what the electorate is willing to accept when it comes to politics and campaigning, he's changed the standards," she said.

Biden's team, meanwhile, claimed that Biden's gaffes were part of his appeal.

"Joe Biden has spoken his mind his entire life, which voters know and love about him," Kate Bedingfield, Biden's communications director and deputy campaign manager, told The New York Times. "He's a real person, he's authentic and that will never change."