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Just Like New Coke, The Biden Campaign Can’t Sell A Product People Don’t Like

After spending millions of dollars without budging in the polls, Biden is proving you can advertise a bad product, but you can’t sell one.

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Decades ago, there was a major ad campaign for New Coke. The problem was that people hated it and the campaign became one of the greatest flops in advertising history. Today’s 81-year-old president looks a lot like New Coke.

Biden is proving you can advertise a bad product, but you can’t sell one. Despite a massive March ad blitz, Biden barely moved his numbers. Arguably, this is as good as it gets for Biden, and good doesn’t look to be good enough.

March marked a “month of action” for Biden’s reelection campaign. It began with his State of the Union address. A scripted set-piece in a controlled setting before a national television audience, it was tailormade for Biden. Following it, Biden and his cabinet secretaries fanned out across the country. Simultaneously, Biden’s campaign was spending $29.2 million — almost five times the previous month’s $6.3 million — predominantly on advertising.

Biden’s March effort played to his strengths. Incumbency has its advantages, and few are as large as a SOTU. The same applies to having a cabinet’s worth of surrogate campaigners. And of course, there’s the money: Biden looks to have about $100 million more in his campaign chest. Not only did Trump have none of these, he faced weeks’ worth of courtroom hearings in New York that would require his attendance, severely limiting his chance to respond.

So, what did Biden get from his advantages? According to RealClearPolitics’ national average of Biden’s job approval polling, the president’s approval stood at 40.6 percent and his disapproval at 56 percent on March 1. On April 2, the two numbers were 40.7 percent and 55.9 percent — a 0.1 percentage point swing in Biden’s favor. On May 1, the two numbers were 40 percent and 56.2 percent — both worse than they had been before Biden’s “month of action.” 

Biden’s poll numbers in a match-up against Trump were better, but not by much. According to RealClearPolitics. on March 1, Biden trailed Trump 47.1-45.1 percent in a two-way race. On April 1, he trailed 45.5-46.5 percent; on May 1, he trailed 45.1-46.6 percent. 

In a five-way race, Biden fared a little better. On March 1, Biden trailed Trump 37.7-41.2 percent; on April 1, he trailed 39.6-42.1 percent and on May 1, he trailed 39.2-41.4 percent.

However, in the all-important battleground state polling, Biden again dropped back in the second month. On March 1, Biden trailed Trump 43.04-47.21 percent. On April 1, he trailed 45.3-48.49 percent, and on May 1, he trailed 44.67-47.91 percent. 

Overall, Biden’s “month of action” didn’t get him much, certainly no momentum, and it didn’t last long. In both a two-way race and in the battleground state polling, Biden began giving up gains in just the second month.

These results should be very concerning for Biden. First, he was forced to spend a huge sum for a race that was then just under eight months away. Second, he got very little for it. 

Reelections are a referendum on the incumbent. Biden’s numbers are poor. He is roughly in the mid-40s in both the two-way and battleground races. In a five-way race, he doesn’t break 40. 

With such poor numbers, Biden will naturally try to make November into a referendum on Trump. However, in trying to do so, he is swimming against the historical tide. He’s also swimming against Trump’s. According to Gallup, Biden’s approval rating in the 13th quarter of his presidency is just 38.7 percent (the lowest of any president since Truman), while Trump’s at the same point was 46.8 percent and that came with America in the throes of a pandemic.

Nor is Gallup an outlier. According to RealClearPolitics’ May 7 average of national polls gives Biden just a 39.2 percent approval rating. Trump’s, at the same point in his presidency, was 44.6 percent.

The most concerning point for Biden is that this may be as good as it gets for him. Biden essentially has the field to himself, a large money advantage, countless surrogates, plus other incumbency assets. Yet with all this, he barely moved the needle. What little he did could be undone with a single gaffe—and Biden has called himself a “gaffe machine.” 

Unlike four years ago, Biden will have ample opportunity to make them too. Then he held double-digit leads in the polls and a pandemic’s pass to stay off the trail and away from potential gaffes. Now, he doesn’t. What’s more, it’s hard to see what issue can save him from himself. According to RealClearPolitics averages on specific issues, Biden’s below 40 percent on his handling of the economy, foreign policy, immigration, inflation, crime, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Instead of establishing New Coke, the ad campaign proved advertising can only go so far. Ultimately, publicity cannot overcome the product, or packaging its contents. Biden has been president for over three years. His problem is, as demonstrated by his polling numbers, not that he’s not well known, but that he’s not well-regarded. More money, more ads, and more exposure aren’t going to change that. 


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