Biden closes gap on Trump but third-party candidates pose danger, polls show

Multiple new polls show Joe Biden strengthening slightly in the US presidential election, but suggest third-party candidates could present a risk to his chance of carrying the White House in November.

According to a New York Times/Siena College poll released on Saturday, Biden has whittled down the four-point lead Donald Trump held in February, with Trump leading Biden 46% to 45% among registered voters.

The narrowing of support for the candidates seven months before election day comes as Trump is likely to be largely off the campaign and fundraising trail for the next six weeks while he attends a criminal trial in New York over pre-2016 election hush money payments.

Despite the narrowing of Trump’s lead that the New York Times poll found, the survey located a worrying issue for Democrats: some voters recalled Trump’s 2016-20 presidency, despite his capacity to sow divisiveness and chaos, as a time of economic prosperity and strong national security.

Before 2020 election, only 39% of voters said that the country was better off after Trump took office – a figure that has risen in the intervening years with a Democrat in the White House.

According to the New York Times, 42% now view Trump’s term as better for the country than the Biden administration, compared with 25% who say the opposite and an additional 25% saying Biden has been “mostly bad” for the country.

Related: Trump reposts 2018 all-caps anti-Iran threat in response to Israel strike

Approval of Trump’s handling of the economy was also up 10% over the past four years.

A separate study of 1,265 registered voters released on Sunday by I&I/Tipp showed Biden at 43% and Trump at 40% if no other choices are in the mix.

Poll respondents were asked who they preferred in a two-candidate contest, with the option to chose “other” and “not sure” – options that both returned 9% of those polled. That 18% figure of the total vote, editor Terry Jones of Issues & Insights wrote, showed that Biden and Trump “are not opposing against one another in a vacuum”.

Asked a follow-up question that added the independent candidates Robert F Kennedy Jr, an environmental lawyer and vaccine sceptic, the Harvard professor Cornel West, and the Green party figure Jill Stein, Biden took the greater hit to his support, leveling with Trump at 38%.

With Kennedy at 11%, West at 2%, and Stein at 1%, Jones calculated that Kennedy’s presence siphoned off five points of Biden’s support to Trump’s two.

“This is not surprising, given that RFK Jr is on most issues a traditional progressive leftist, which makes him indistinguishable from the current leadership of the Democratic party,” Jones wrote.

According to the Kennedy campaign, the candidate and vice-presidential pick Nicole Shanahan currently have enough signatures to get on the ballots of just six states: Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, North Carolina and New Hampshire.

Earlier this month, third-party group No Labels announced it would not field a “unity ticket” candidate after reaching out to 30 potential people and raising $60m despite assessing that “Americans remain more open to an independent presidential run and hungrier for unifying national leadership than ever before”.

The group said it would only offer a candidate if it could identify a candidate with a “credible path” to the White House.

“No such candidates emerged, so the responsible course of action is for us to stand down,” it said.

Kennedy, who has consistently denied his candidacy is in effect a “spoiler” to Democratic hopes of retaining the White House, is not the only worry for the party currently holding executive power.

Polls are wildly conflicting. A recent Rasmussen survey found that Biden trails Trump regardless of third-party candidates.

In a two-way contest between Biden and Trump, 49% of likely US voters said they would choose Trump, and 41% would vote for Biden. That was a marginal increase for Trump since February, when he led by six points.

That same poll found 8% would vote for some other candidate, virtually matching the I&I/Tipp findings.

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