A large majority of Democrats would prefer that their party nominate someone other than incumbent President Joe Biden as its candidate in the 2024 presidential election, a new poll from The New York Times and Siena College found.
The poll asked respondents who plan to vote in the Democratic primary elections whether they want the party to renominate Biden. Only 26% said that they would like to see Biden on the ballot again, compared to 64% who said they would prefer someone else.
The poll’s findings paint a grim picture for the incumbent president, whose standing with the public is being battered by high inflation and the inability of his party to push its agenda through the closely divided Senate.
In one of the survey’s only bright spots for the president, it found that among all voters, in a rematch of the 2020 election, with Biden facing former President Donald Trump in 2024, Biden would win 44% of the vote to Trump’s 41%.
Age a major factor
Democratic respondents who said they would prefer that the party nominate a different presidential candidate in 2024 were asked to explain why. One-third said that Biden’s age is a factor. At 79, Biden is already the oldest person ever to serve as president, and he will be nearly 82 at the time of the 2024 election.
It was the oldest cohort of survey respondents, those over 65, who were most concerned about Biden’s age, with 60% citing it as their primary reason for wanting a different candidate. The youngest cohort, those aged 18 to 35, were the least likely to cite Biden’s age, with only 14% choosing it as their primary concern.
Nearly as many respondents, 32%, cited Biden’s job performance as their reason. Twelve percent said they would simply prefer someone else, and 10% said that they don’t view the president as being “progressive enough.”
Country seen moving in ‘wrong direction’
The new poll found that 77% of Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction, versus only 13% who believe it is headed in the right direction.
The stark assessment of the country’s trajectory held across all the different subgroups tracked by the poll. A majority of Republicans (89%), Independents (81%), and Democrats (63%) chose the “wrong direction.” When pollsters divided respondents by age, education, and ethnicity, majorities of each agreed with the negative assessment.
The subgroup with the least negative assessment of the country’s path was Black Americans, 54% of whom said they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, versus 30% who believe it is on the right track. White Americans were most dissatisfied with 82% viewing the country as moving in the wrong direction while just 9% see it as on the right track.
Low approval of Biden
Asked whether they approve or disapprove of how Biden is handling his job, only 33% of respondents said they approved. Among Democrats, the number was 70%, a low figure for a party’s incumbent president. Among Republicans, the figure was just 8%.
The poll tried to separate respondent’s personal feelings about Biden from their sense of how he is performing as president. When asked if they have a favorable or unfavorable impression of Biden personally, the numbers were not much better.
Only 39% said they had a favorable impression of the president, with 58% reporting an unfavorable impression. The partisan divide was stark, with 85% of Democrats reporting a favorable impression, compared to 30% of Independents and just 7% of Republicans.
White House reacts
Asked about the poll during a news briefing Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that it also found that 92% of Democrats would vote for Biden in a rematch against Trump. More broadly, though, she said that the administration is not focused on polls.
“There’s going to be many polls; they’re going to go up and they’re going to go down,” she said. “This is not the thing that we are solely focused on.”
Instead, she said, the White House is focused on things like the bipartisan gun control legislation that Biden signed into law Monday, fighting inflation, and creating jobs
Bad sign for midterms
Kyle Kondik, the executive editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told VOA that Biden’s approval numbers in the new poll are significantly lower than those in most other public polling, but said they still reflect a troubling trend for the president and his party.
“The numbers have been slowly slipping, really for a long time going back to last year,” he said. “There’s just been this erosion and the erosion continues. Whatever the bottom is, it doesn’t seem like he’s hit it yet.”
It’s bad news for the Democrats, given that November’s midterm elections, which will decide which party controls Congress for the next two years, are only four months away.
“Typically bad approval is a contributor to a bad midterm outcome for a president’s party,” Kondik said.
Rumors of a primary challenge
The news that many Democrats would prefer that Biden not run for a second term will fuel speculation that another Democratic leader might challenge the president in a primary election.
While primary challenges to a sitting president are uncommon, they are not unheard of. In 1992, Republican President George H.W. Bush faced a primary challenge from conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan. In 1980, Democratic President Jimmy Carter was challenged by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy. In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford was challenged by Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California.
In all three cases, the sitting president defeated his primary challenger. All three, however, went on to lose in the general election.
While Biden insists that he will run again, and there are no prominent Democratic politicians who have publicly broken from Biden, experts said that if Biden’s numbers continue to decline, the likelihood that one or more Democrats will challenge him increases. If that happens, Biden will likely feel the need to take dramatic action to demonstrate that he remains in control of the party.
“The problem of an unpopular incumbent is that his problems and limitations are concrete, but all his potential replacements’ advantages and disadvantages are hypothetical,” Chris Stirewalt, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA in an email exchange.
“As (California Governor) Gavin Newsom, (Illinois Governor) J.B. Pritzker and others are emboldened to position themselves for 2024, Biden will feel increased pressure to be more radical and confrontational,” he said.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden touted himself as a dealmaker who would find common ground between Democrats and Republicans to pass critical legislation. As president, he has signed into law bipartisan bills to overhaul American infrastructure and curb gun violence, both of which are broadly popular. But many Democratic priorities remain undone, from protecting voting rights to an ambitious plan to combat climate change, boost educational opportunities, and help working families.