WASHINGTON — 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.
While Biden has trumpeted his legislative victories and ability to govern, the poll suggests relatively few U.S. adults give him high marks on either. Follow-up interviews with poll respondents suggest that many believe the 80-year-old's age is a liability, with people focused on his coughing, his gait, his gaffes and the possibility that the world's most stressful job would be better suited for someone younger.
“I, honestly, think that he would be too old,” said Sarah Overman, 37, a Democrat who works in education in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We could use someone younger in the office."
As the president gives his State of the Union address on Tuesday, he has a chance to confront fundamental doubts about his competence to govern. Biden has previously leaned heavily on his track record to say that he's more than up to the task. When asked if he can handle the office’s responsibilities at his age, the president has often responded as if he’s accepting a dare: “Watch me.”
Democratic candidates performed better than expected in the 2022 midterm elections, a testament to Biden's message that he is defending democracy and elevating the middle class. Democrats expanded their control of the Senate by one seat and narrowly lost their House majority even though history indicated there would be a Republican wave.
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.
Linda Lockwood, a Democrat and retiree from Kansas City, Kansas, said she is not that worried about Biden's age.
“He seems to be in pretty good condition in my opinion and that’s coming from a 76-year-old woman,” Lockwood said. “You might be a little more careful going down the steps as you get older, but if your brain is still working, that’s the important part.”
Already the oldest president in U.S. history, Biden has been dogged by questions about his age as he would be 86 if he serves a full eight years as president. He often works long days, standing for hours, remembering the names of strangers he meets while traveling who want to share a story about their lives with him.
Yet he's been a national political figure for a half-century, having first been elected to the Senate from Delaware in 1972, and the moments when he appears lost on stage or stumbles through speeches can garner more attention than his policies.
On CNN on Sunday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, acknowledged that “generational arguments can be powerful.”
“The most powerful argument of all is results,” said Buttigieg, 41. “And you can’t argue — at least, I would say you can’t argue with a straight face that it isn’t a good thing that we have had 12 million jobs created under this president.”
Voters like Ross Truckey, 35, have been watching the president carefully. A lawyer in Michigan, Truckey did not vote for Biden or Republican Donald Trump in 2020. He feels as though Biden has been the latest in a string of “subpar” presidents.
“His age and possibly his mental acuity is not where I would want the leader of the country to be,” Truckey said. “He, at times, appears to be an old man who is past his prime. Sometimes I feel a little bit of pity for the guy being pushed out in front of crowds.”
Biden has repeatedly emphasized in speeches that it's essential for the public to know the totality of what his administration is doing. It's notched four big legislative victories with coronavirus relief, the bipartisan infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and tax and spending measures that help to address climate change and improve the IRS' ability to enforce the tax code and help taxpayers.
Yet just 13% have a lot of confidence in Biden’s ability to accomplish major policy goals, a possible reflection of the fact that he must now work with a Republican majority in the House that wants to cut spending in return for lifting the government’s legal borrowing authority.
The poll also shows only 23% of U.S. adults say they have “a great deal” of confidence in Biden to effectively manage the White House. That has ticked down from 28% a year ago and remains significantly lower than 44% two years ago, just as Biden took office.
Just 21% have a lot of confidence in Biden’s ability to handle a crisis, down slightly from 26% last March.
On working with congressional Republicans and managing government spending, roughly half of U.S. adults say they have hardly any confidence in the president, and only around 1 in 10 say they have high confidence.
Republican voters are unwilling to give Biden the benefit of the doubt, hurting his ratings.
John Rodriguez, 76, backed Trump and assumes that Biden is merely doing the bidding of his aides. That creates a challenge for a president who promised to unite the country.
“I believe he’s not the one who’s calling the shots,” said Rodriguez, who lives in Cutler Bay, Florida. “He’s a puppet being told where to go, what to say.”
But the key obstacle for Biden might be voters such as Vikram Joglekar, 46, who works in the computer industry in Austin, Texas. He backed the president in 2020, only to summarize his feelings about Biden's time in office as “meh.”
“It’s not up for me to decide whether someone should run or not," Joglekar said. "I don’t know who is going to be on the ballot, but I would hope it would be someone better from his party.”
The poll of 1,068 adults was conducted Jan. 26-30 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.