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AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

We covered the new Washington Post/ABC News poll yesterday, which showed that a sizable majority of Americans would feel disappointed or angry if Joe Biden won a second term as president.  Almost 60 percent of Democrats told the pollster they don't want the president to run for re-election, even as Biden and company have reportedly crafted a sunny narrative about the direction of the country for this evening's State of the Union Address.  For weeks, the press has reported that Team Biden is marching toward a 'four more years' announcement, with several indications that the formal rollout of the incumbent's 2024 bid could be coming very soon.  The party, which is in the process of changing its nominating calendar at Biden's behest, is said to be falling in line.  But actual voters apparently aren't feeling the excitement about another Biden term:


Four in 10 Americans say they've gotten worse off financially since Joe Biden became president, the most in ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back 37 years. Political fallout includes poor performance ratings for Biden and a tight hypothetical Biden/Trump rematch next year. Given disaffection with both leaders, a rerun of the 2020 presidential election is hardly enticing: Nearly six in 10 Democratic-aligned adults don't want to see Biden nominated again for the job, and half on the Republican side would rather not see Donald Trump as their party's nominee...The big hit on Biden is the economy: With inflation moderating but still high, 41 percent say they're not as well off financially as they were when Biden took office, the most in nearly three dozen ABC/Post polls to ask the question since 1986, when Ronald Reagan, who popularized the "better off" phrase, held office. Just 16 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, say they're better off.  By contrast, nearly two years into Trump's presidency, far fewer – 13 percent – said they'd gotten worse off; more, 25 percent, were in better shape financially.

This survey isn't an outlier, either. A fresh Associated Press poll also measures widespread opposition to another Biden run, with the president in a strikingly weak position among his own party's base:

A majority of Democrats now think one term is plenty for President Joe Biden, despite his insistence that he plans to seek reelection in 2024. That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that shows just 37% of Democrats say they want him to seek a second term, down from 52% in the weeks before last year’s midterm elections...Overall, 41% approve of how Biden is handling his job as president, the poll shows, similar to ratings at the end of last year. A majority of Democrats still approve of the job Biden is doing as president, yet their appetite for a reelection campaign has slipped despite his electoral track record. Only 22% of U.S. adults overall say he should run again, down from 29% who said so before last year’s midterm elections. The decline among Democrats saying Biden should run again for president appears concentrated among younger people. Among Democrats age 45 and over, 49% say Biden should run for reelection, nearly as many as the 58% who said that in October. But among those under age 45, 23% now say he should run for reelection, after 45% said that before the midterms.

He's stuck in the low-40's on overall approval, and fewer than one-in-four American adults think he should pursue a second term in office. Within the ranks of the Democratic Party faithful, fewer than four-in-ten want him atop the ticket again. This erosion is interesting and at least somewhat counterintuitive. After Democrats over-performed in the midterm elections, the Biden administration felt a sense of momentum and relief. I suspect they anticipated the sharpest, longest knives to be unsheathed if the party had taken a beating last November, but the results offered an apparent reprieve. That was the theory and the 'narrative,' at least. But voters don't appear to have gotten the memo. Biden's standing has slid deeper into negative territory on the 2024 question, which underscores two big points: First, if the Democrats re-nominate the incumbent, which is probably the likeliest outcome at this point, he could face historic headwinds in the 2024 general election.  

Second, Republicans' underperformance in 2022 really was a searing indictment of the party.  Voters deeply dislike what they're seeing in the Biden era, yet the opposition could barely capitalize on those sentiments at all -- even losing ground in the Senate and among governorships.  A minimally competent and appealing Republican ticket could actually be favored next year, especially if the economy is not roaring (or especially if it is in worse shape) by the summer and fall.  Will Republicans offer such a ticket to the country?  That's very much an open question.  But why are Biden's re-election numbers so dismal?  Why has he gotten an anti-bounce from his party's relatively good showing in the midterms, paired with certain brighter economic glimmers?  On Varney & Co, I suggested that it's a combination of factors:


The Democrats' progressive base has never loved Biden.  He has always been viewed as a place-holder whose primary function was deposing Trump.  They're not a patient bunch, and they believe they can do better, ideologically speaking, sooner rather than later.  They are not loyal to him.  A lot of independent voters are not enamored with Biden's tenure, and in spite of some improvements, the economic squeeze remains real and painful for many millions.  He hasn't been a strong leader in a number of respects, he does not present well, and his administration has been beset with a string of crises that have highlighted bad policies, incompetence, or both.  And then, of course, this man is 80 years old, and many people simply do not think he has six more years of this in him.  That's how they've arrived at a point where substantial majorities of the public say they want him to pack it in after one term.  But he doesn't appear inclined to do so.  That's because nearly all incumbent presidents run for re-election, and most of them win.  And it's really difficult to uproot a sitting president in a primary setting, even if he's looking like a huge electoral liability.  Just ask Jimmy Carter.  

Also, if it's not Biden, who is it?  There's no shortage of Democrats with presidential ambitions, not the least of whom is the slick-haired culture warrior governor of America's fastest-shrinking state.  Even if Biden were to unexpectedly stand aside, are Democrats really going to just bypass the much younger sitting Vice President, who is a woman of color?  That would be tricky, especially with the nominating process shifting to further empower black primary voters.  But do they really want to go into a general election battle with Kamala Harris leading the charge?  Evidently not, per the New York Times:


The painful reality for Ms. Harris is that in private conversations over the last few months, dozens of Democrats in the White House, on Capitol Hill and around the nation — including some who helped put her on the party’s 2020 ticket — said she had not risen to the challenge of proving herself as a future leader of the party, much less the country. Even some Democrats whom her own advisers referred reporters to for supportive quotes confided privately that they had lost hope in her...Through much of the fall, a quiet panic set in among key Democrats about what would happen if President Biden opted not to run for a second term. Most Democrats interviewed, who insisted on anonymity to avoid alienating the White House, said flatly that they did not think Ms. Harris could win the presidency in 2024. Some said the party’s biggest challenge would be finding a way to sideline her without inflaming key Democratic constituencies that would take offense. Now with Mr. Biden appearing all but certain to run again, the concern over Ms. Harris has shifted to whether she will be a political liability for the ticket. Given that Mr. Biden at 80 is already the oldest president in American history, Republicans would most likely make Ms. Harris, who is 58, a prime attack line, arguing that a vote for Mr. Biden may in fact be a vote to put her in the Oval Office.

[She] "will be in my opinion one of the most hard-hitting arguments against Biden,” said John Morgan, a prominent fund-raiser for Democrats, including Mr. Biden, and a former Florida finance chairman for President Bill Clinton. “It doesn’t take a genius to say, ‘Look, with his age, we have to really think about this.’” So far, he said, she has not distinguished herself.  Ms. Harris’s allies said she was trapped in a damned-if-she-does, damned-if-she-doesn’t conundrum — she is expected to not do anything to overshadow Mr. Biden while navigating intractable issues he has assigned her such as voting rights and illegal immigration. And some see a double standard applied to a prominent woman of color. “That’s what being a first is all about,” said Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and one of the nation’s most prominent Black lawmakers, who has been an outspoken supporter. “She’s got to work every day to make sure she’s not the last.” ...Members of Congress, Democratic strategists and other major party figures all said she had not made herself into a formidable leader. Two Democrats recalled private conversations in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented that Ms. Harris could not win because she does not have the political instincts to clear a primary field...Aides have encouraged her to liberate herself from the teleprompter and show the nation the Ms. Harris they say they see when the cameras are off...


Devastating.  Her team sent reporters to certain sources for positive quotes, and even those sources offered negative assessments.  Democrats, we're told, experienced 'quiet panic' over the possibility of Biden not running for another term (go back and look at the polling numbers earlier in this post) because they'd have to figure out a way to avoid Kamala Harris without royally infuriating "key Democratic constituencies," such as those fixated on identity.  They're so worried about her ineptitude and unpopularity that they're talking openly about whether her presence on the ticket could be used as a cudgel against her octogenarian running mate.  On the other hand, you have allies preemptively warning against mistreating a "prominent woman of color" with "double standards."  Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton reportedly thinks Harris it too bad at this game to win, which is a brutal diss, given Hillary's own track record (a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton issued a denial to the Times, but nobody believes Mrs. Clinton or her spokespeople).  Then there's the age-old lamentation from loyalists that the public just isn't seeing a politicians "true" self.  Harris should "liberate herself" from the teleprompter, these people say.  The problem is, we've all seen her off the cuff, many times.  It's painful.  

All of which is to say that Democrats may simply have decided that in spite of all of the risks it entails (again, see above), nominating Biden and hoping for the best might be the path of least resistance.  Your move, Republican primary voters.

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