Most Americans believed Biden when in March 2019 he told his staff he would only be a one-term President. Even when he decided to run for a second term, many approved as he was considered the most likely person to beat Donald Trump.
Biden’s record has been impressive, he led the country out of the COVID crisis and the economy has continued to grow beyond expectations. Despite a hostile Congress in the hands of the other Party, he has passed legislation fulfilling many of his campaign promises. He is managing two major foreign policy crises: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the current Hamas-Israeli war. On the other hand, the US chaotically exited Afghanistan and the money his Administration pumped into the economy contributed to the spike in inflation. But Democrats are not wrong to consider Biden’s first three years in office as among the most successful in any recent presidency.
Unfortunately, the rest of the American electorate doesn’t agree.
His honeymoon with the public ended with the mismanaged withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, since then Biden’s approval rating has been strongly negative. The latest poll shows disapproval at nearly 60%.
Under current assumptions, the 2024 Presidential election will be between Biden and Trump. The US electorate is highly polarized, and with the geographical spread of voters, Presidential elections are decided by only a few thousand votes in only 10 “swing” states. The slightest shift can swing an election.
A recent Siena/New York Times poll in the six most critical swing states shows Trump holding a significant lead of 4%-11% over Biden in all but one, indicating that Trump would win the election today. The poll shows Biden losing support in every category of voters from his winning coalition in 2020: African-Americans, Latinos, those under age 30, urban residents, women in the suburbs, etc. When asked whether they trust Trump or Biden to do a better job for the economy Trump beats Biden by an enormous 22%, with an 11%-12% favorable gap in trust for Trump to handle immigration, national security and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Biden is ahead by 9% in trust to handle abortion and a truly surprising only 3% difference over Trump to do a better job protecting democracy.
The Biden team argues that predictions a year before elections have often been wrong, there is a full year to change opinions of the electorate. They also believe that if Trump were convicted of criminal charges, his support would decline by just enough to tilt the result.
We can count on surprises between now and the November 2024 election, but events won’t reverse underlying beliefs, notably:
– An overwhelming 67% of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. They fear another COVID, they are worried, pessimistic, angry, convinced things should be better. With that dominating mood, many will vote for a change in leadership (irrespective of which party is the current leader);
– In spite of economic and financial results that indicate the contrary, 81% of Americans consider the US economy is doing only fairly or poorly, no doubt due to the increase in the cost of living and recent high interest rates. For the average American, prices have risen so dramatically that people see only that they have to pay more for almost everything they buy and for this, they blame Biden;
– Most important, an overwhelming 71% of Americans think Biden is just too old to continue until he is 86. They identify his age with weakness, a trait they abhor. I think no matter what Biden does during the coming year, he will not be able to change this perception. Once the public attributes certain personality traits to candidates, it is virtually impossible to change them.
The Siena/NY Times poll also undercuts Biden’s conviction that he is the only one who can beat Trump; if Trump were to be running against any Democrat other than Biden, the poll indicates any Democrat would win in all of the six swing states. There are other potentially strong Democratic candidates. Trump is a weaker candidate than in 2020, and if he is convicted of crimes, he may become weaker, but Biden’s positive record fails to convince voters he should be given a second term.
Please, Mr. President, I am afraid, afraid you are running an enormous risk by seeking re-election. You will go down in history as a great statesman if you leave your place to a younger candidate, utilizing your last year devoted to the job at hand, whereas your heritage will be permanently tarnished if you were to lose to Trump. Even people devoted to you, and I am one of those, believe that running is an intolerable risk, not just for you, but for the country and for a worried world, that lives in fear of the havoc of another ultra-nationalist and erratic Trump presidency.