Senate Democrats say President Joe Biden’s moribund poll numbers are “concerning” and “frustrating,” but they are doubtful any messaging shift by the White House will change how voters view him before the 2024 election.
Roughly three-quarters of Americans don’t think Biden has the stamina and sharpness to serve effectively as president, they are worried about his ability to serve another full term— and his son’s criminal indictment will not alleviate concerns about his focus.
They acknowledge the 80-year-old president’s biggest problem is his age, which negatively influences how many voters view his presidency and contributes to a lack of enthusiasm for his 2024 reelection campaign.
Biden is touting his “Bidenomics” agenda — but 58 percent in the CNN poll think Biden’s policies have worsened economic conditions in the country.
Democratic strategist James Carville said party members should be concerned with Biden’s poll numbers, which show him trailing all the potential GOP nominees in head-to-head matchups.
Polls also have consistently shown many voters are concerned about Biden’s age and whether he is fit to be president. Biden will turn 81 in November and he will be 86 if he makes it to the end of a second term.
A recent CNN poll found that 46 percent of registered voters said any Republican presidential candidate would be better than Biden.
Among Democratic voters, 67 percent said they would like a nominee other than Biden.
“You can’t look at this and not say that you’re concerned,” said Carville. “For me to come on television and say I don’t find this alarming or troubling at all would be stupid. I wouldn’t do that.”
“To say the least, the polls were not great,” Carville said. “And it tells us that, you know, voters are expressing some apprehension here. It’s pretty clear. There’s not much else you can say when you look at them.”
A campaign spokesperson said the Biden-Harris team will win reelection in 2024 “by putting our heads down and doing the work, not by fretting about polls” and falsely asserted that the president’s agenda is both popular and delivering results.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said polls on the eve of the midterm elections predicted a nightmare scenario for Democrats because economic concerns overshadowed abortion and democracy worries but the so-called ‘red wave’ failed to materialize but such thinking overlooks the fact that Republicans did capture control of the House of Representatives.
“The Biden White House is not going to be rattled by this because their view is there are going to be 500 polls between now and Election Day,” said CNN political contributor Kate Bedingfield, a former Biden West Wing staffer. “So what the Biden campaign is going to do is keep talking about his record, talking about how they’re making lives better for people.”
“There’s a massive disconnect between public perception and reality. The reality is: Biden has an outstanding record. That’s not the public perception by any means,” said pollster Mark Mellman, who failed to recognize the ‘massive disconnect’ between the Democratic campaign’s perception and the reality that voters are not buying it, a fact that should send off alarm bells among neoliberals and liberals alike.
The president’s age is front of mind for many voters, with 73 percent of Americans and 56 percent of Democrats saying they are “seriously concerned” about Biden’s physical and mental competence.
Trump is 77, but the age concerns plaguing Biden haven’t shown up the same way in polls surrounding Trump.
The former president is battling a series of indictments and a number of Republicans worry that in a general election contest, he could be a weak candidate, but with few truly competitive states—only four are genuine tossups for 2024—Trump is expected to be relatively strong against Biden in another close presidential election next year.
Analysts agree that Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin—three states that flipped from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020—remain toss-ups while Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, which Biden won, and North Carolina, which backed Trump, are likely to remain at least somewhat competitive.
“You got to be concerned about those poll numbers, you just do,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said. “There’s plenty of time to get them back up. Whether he can or not, I just don’t know but you got to be concerned.”
One Democratic senator who requested anonymity said voters at home expressed deep apathy about Biden’s prospective reelection during constituent meetings over the August recess.
The senator said the polling data “reflect all the miscellaneous encounters I’m having all the time.”
“There’s just no enthusiasm,” the senator said. “It does pretty much come down to ‘Well, he’s done a pretty good job, but he’s just too old.’”
Democratic senators dismiss the possibility Biden will face any real competition for his party’s presidential nomination, even though many of their constituents — especially younger voters — are hungry for new faces in leadership.
Instead, Democratic lawmakers, who expect a tough fight to keep their Senate majority, are counting on Republicans nominating former President Trump for the top of their ticket, whom they view as a candidate Biden has a good chance of beating next year, despite his weak poll numbers.
A CNN/SSRS poll of 1,503 adults nationwide conducted Aug. 25-31 shows Biden’s job approval rating stands at 39 percent, and 67 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say the Democratic Party should nominate someone other than Biden for president next year.
The poll showed 58 percent of Americans have an unfavorable impression of Biden, and nearly three-quarters of respondents say they are concerned about his age.
Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said he’s frustrated that Biden’s poll numbers are so bad despite the strength of the economy and the president’s legislative accomplishments, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, which gave Medicare broad authority to negotiate lower prescription drug prices and provided $370 billion to combat climate change.
“It’s frustrating,” he said, citing a disconnect between voters’ view of the economy and inflation and the latest data.
“They think inflation is still running away. Inflation has come from 9 percent to 3, now 3.5 percent,” he said. “It’s, relatively speaking, under control. Now we’re not at 2 percent, but we’re darn close,” referring to the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent inflation target.
“What can you do? You have to continue to try and find fresh ways of talking about this,” he said. “I think we have to find some fresh ways of letting people know that the reality of what we’re seeing is little short of a miracle.”
Hickenlooper acknowledged that, “sure,” Biden’s age is hurting how voters view his job performance but argued it’s not fair.
“The age factor shouldn’t sour anyone unless they are seeing results that are not up to what their expectations are,” he said. “My point is the results are pretty darn good.”
A second Democratic senator who requested anonymity to discuss doubts about Biden’s political viability acknowledged “everybody is so obsessed about his age or having somebody else” as the Democratic nominee but argued the bottom line politically is “this is a guy that’s gotten more done than anybody half his age.”
The senator predicted as the presidential race “moves forward,” Biden’s numbers will improve because he won’t be judged in a political “vacuum” against an ideal alternative but instead will be viewed in comparison to Trump, whom Democrats view as the likely GOP nominee.
Some Democrats are expressing frustration with the White House’s economic messaging because an effort to tout the results of “Bidenomics” shows little sign of succeeding.
“There’s work to be done, stronger messaging, more aggressive campaigning but we’re still very, very early,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) of Biden’s weak poll numbers.
A new Wall Street Journal poll of 1,500 registered voters found that 24 percent of Americans rate the economy as their top issue — well ahead of immigration, abortion rights, inflation or climate change — and only 37 percent rate the economy as “excellent” or “good,” while 27 percent rate it “not so good” and 36 percent rate it “poor.”
Only 37 percent of registered voters strongly approve or somewhat approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, while 48 percent strongly disapprove of his economic performance.
The poll also found that 73 percent of voters think Biden is too old to seek a second term.
Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist who served as an adviser to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Biden’s message on the economy isn’t breaking through “because Americans are just not paying attention.”
“They are so burned out on politics,” he explained. “Only one out of two eligible voters in America even register to vote.”
Jarding pointed to a statement of the 13 presidential libraries dating to former President Hoover warning about the present state of American democracy as a troubling sign of Americans’ distrust of national politics and institutions. He thinks that disengagement is a major factor behind Biden’s weak numbers.
Blumenthal acknowledged Biden’s numbers are worrisome but argued the 2024 election will likely be a choice between the president and Trump, who is far ahead in Republican presidential primary polls.
“The fundamental here is elections are about choices,” he said. “When voters — when we are six months before the election before a year and a half — are looking at both Trump and Biden, even the people who like Trump’s results don’t want four more years of Trump.
“He produces chaos,” Blumenthal said, predicting Trump will turn off independent and even many Republican-leaning voters if he is the GOP nominee.
Tester, who is one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, acknowledged the presidential race will be “a factor” in his reelection campaign but said he would stick to his game plan of running as a third-generation Montana farmer who has delivered wins for veterans and other constituents in his state.
“The president is always a factor but I don’t think it’s a factor that’s going to make much of a difference for me. We tend to do our own thing,” he said, indicating that he will likely keep his distance from Biden in next year’s election.
Asked how worried he is about Biden’s poll numbers, Blumenthal said: “This election is going to be a fight. No question, it’s going to be a fight and we need to be prepared.”
Hard-line Republicans in the House are itching for fights over opening an impeachment inquiry and exacting deep spending cuts at the risk of a government shutdown, but that eagerness to fight just isn’t showing up with Biden and Democrats, whose caution is easily confused with cowardice and should be concerned about the impact of long, drawn-out investigations that can erode confidence and hinder necessary action.
No American is going to be enthusiastic about re-electing a politically paralyzed president.