BIDEN AND HARRIS BOTH WEAK GOING INTO 2024. President Joe Biden’s job approval rating has fallen to 38% in a new poll from the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center — close to his lowest rating ever in that poll. Just last month, Biden’s rating was 45%, which was as high as it has been since his rating began a long slide a few months after he took office.
What’s going on? The economy. In the month since Biden’s previous, higher rating, people have become deeply concerned about the safety of the banking system. They have renewed worries about inflation. They are concerned about some difficult-to-understand maladies affecting world economic stability. They are, in short, worried about the economy, and when voters are worried about the economy, they are less inclined to view the president of the United States positively.
You can see it in some of the poll’s measurements. When respondents were asked, “Generally speaking, would you say things in this country are headed in the right direction or the wrong direction?” — the oldest question in the polling book — just 21% said the country is headed in the right direction, versus 78% who said wrong direction. The right direction number fell 7 points from just last month, and the wrong direction number rose 7 points.
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The pollsters gave respondents several ways to describe the economy. Would you say it is very good, somewhat good, or leans toward good? Or would you say it is very poor, somewhat poor, or leans toward poor? The number of people who said it is good, or even just leans toward good, was 25%, versus 75% who said it is some version of poor. The good number was down 7 points from last month, and the bad number was up 7 points — a perfect reflection of the right direction/wrong direction measure.
The pollsters then asked respondents to describe their own financial situation the same way — very good, somewhat good, leans toward good, very poor, somewhat poor, or leans toward poor. The number who called their situation some version of good fell 4 points to 53% — the lowest it has been in Biden’s presidency. The number who called their situation some version of poor rose 4 points to 47% — the highest it has been in Biden’s presidency.
Finally, Biden’s rating specifically on his handling of the economy fell to 31% — the lowest of his time in office. Put it all together, and you see how vulnerable a president’s job approval rating is to the state of the economy.
As he considers a reelection race, Biden has problems he can fix, problems he can do a little about, and problems he cannot do anything about.
You have seen him try to move toward the center on two of his biggest vulnerabilities — the border and crime. Maybe he can do something about them and increase his approval in those areas.
Then there is the economy. Biden has already done a lot to damage the economy, mostly by pushing federal spending to unheard-of heights, which helped drive up the inflation rate that made making ends meet far more difficult for millions of people. Now, he could help by trying to reverse some of those policies, but he’s not going to do it because that would put him at odds with much of his Democratic base.
And then there are the things — the thing, actually — that Biden can do absolutely nothing about. He is 80 years old. He would be 82 at the start of a second term and 86 at the end. That is something that is always an underlying concern of voters, and Biden can’t change it.
One more thing. He apparently cannot, or will not, change his vice presidential running mate, either. And that could be another big problem for Biden 2024. A new report from Reuters said Biden is increasingly frustrated with the performance and attitude of Vice President Kamala Harris. Presidents look to vice presidents to take on difficult or unrewarding jobs, and Biden doesn’t see Harris doing that. “A point of tension in their relationship is that I don’t think that the president sees her as somebody who takes anything off his plate,” a former White House official told Reuters. The reason? Harris has a “fear of messing up,” the former official said. Another former White House official said Biden worries whether Harris is capable of “consistently rising to the occasion.”
Of course, the vice president already has low job approval ratings. It is fair to say she has not caught on with the public during her time in office. And beyond that, she does not fix any weakness that Biden has — that is, the two are not a complementary mix.
In the past, presidential candidates have picked running mates to make up for some of their own deficiencies. George W. Bush was thought to be callow, so he picked a government heavyweight, Dick Cheney, to be his running mate. Barack Obama was thought to be inexperienced, so he picked an experienced senator, Joe Biden, to be his running mate. Cheney and Biden lent heft to the ticket that the presidential candidate did not possess.
Now Biden is president himself, and with his decades of experience in government, his needs are different than those of Bush or Obama. As an 82-year-old candidate, he needs a vice president who voters believe could instantly assume the presidency and be able to do the job. Harris has not made that impression on voters. Her weakness heightens, rather than reduces, Biden’s weakness.
So that is Biden’s situation now as he plans to announce his 2024 candidacy. Voters worry about his advanced age. His job approval is low, extremely vulnerable to variations in the economy. And his vice president offers him no help. Not a good platform for the launch of a new campaign.
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