Biden’s age, popularity could hurt re-election bid in 2024, but Trump expected to play outsize role

While U.S. President Joe Biden's age and disapproval ratings could be major campaign hurdles, some observers suggest that in the end, the most significant issue will be much like in 2020: a vote for or against Donald Trump.

U.S. president's approval rating sits at about 43%, well below level at election

Biden promises to 'finish the job' with potential Trump rematch

8 hours ago

Duration 2:42

U.S. President Joe Biden pitched himself as the leader with the proven track record and a reasonable alternative to any Republican challenger in the 2024 presidential election, including front-runner Donald Trump.

When the campaign team of Joe Biden released a video early Tuesday morning announcing his official intention to seek re-election next year, it meant that the U.S. president — already the oldest person to hold the job — would be 86 by the end of his second term.

While questions about Biden's age have certainly become a factor in his re-election bid, so too have troubling poll numbers that show the 80-year-old Democratic president continues to struggle with disapproval ratings that outweigh those who approve of his job performance.

While both of these factors could be major campaign hurdles, some observers suggest that in the end, the most significant issue will be much like in 2020: a vote for or against Donald Trump, who was elected president in 2016 but was defeated by Biden four years later.

"If Trump is the Republican nominee, I think there's a pretty good chance the 2024 election also becomes a referendum on Trump," said Danny Hayes, a political science professor at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

Biden's video already indicated that the 2024 battle will be about Trump and defending democracy against "MAGA extremists … who are lining up to take those bedrock freedoms away," referring to Trump's 2016 campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.

"These are the themes that he's going to push regardless of who the Republican nominee is," Hayes said. "That argument is probably easier to make if it's Trump."

Trump, 76, who announced his bid to seek re-election back in November, still remains a favourite among Republican voters to represent the party in the 2024 contest. Although it's still early in the race, Trump's main competitor is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who — despite slipping in the polls and recently losing key Republican endorsements — will likely be a tough challenger if he decides to seek the nomination.

Some polls suggest that DeSantis would fare much better than Trump against Biden. As well, DeSantis, at age 44, would present a strong contrast to Biden, who — at least on the issue of age — would likely benefit from a repeat match against Trump, just four years his junior.

Questions about health

Throughout his presidency, Biden has faced questions about his health and at times has seemed frail, confused or been accused of falling asleep. It's an issue that voters, including Democratic supporters, have expressed concerns about.

A recent New York Times editorial titled Biden Should Take Voters' Concerns About Age Seriouslyargued that "questions will persist about his age until he does more to assure voters that he is up to the job."

"Concerns about age — both in terms of fitness for office and being out of touch with the moment — are legitimate," the editorial noted.

The Wall Street Journal was more pointed in its editorial, saying that "the public understands what Mr. Biden apparently won't admit: that electing an octogenarian in obvious decline for another four years could be an historic mistake."

"Asking the country to elect a man who is 80 years old and whose second term would end when he is 86 is a risky act that borders on selfish," it said.

Just last year, some Democrats were openly questioning Biden's decision to run again.

"The presidency is a monstrously taxing job and the stark reality is the president would be closer to 90 than 80 at the end of a second term, and that would be a major issue," David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Barack Obama's two winning presidential campaigns, told the New York Times last June.

According to an NBC poll released earlier this week, 70 per cent of all Americans — including 51 per cent of Democrats — believe Biden should not run for a second term. And nearly half said the reason was his age.

Age could play 'major role' for undecideds

Meanwhile, other recent polls have reinforced concerns that voters have with Biden's age.

"I think understandably, when you have an 80-year-old running for president, you never know what could happen," Hayes, of George Washington University, said. "I certainly think it is a concern. And I also think it's a reasonable concern for voters to think about."

If Biden is unable to campaign for a sustained period of time because of health issues, his age will likely become a big part of the conversation about the election, Hayes said.

"And for voters whose minds aren't made up, it probably plays a major role," he said.

Still, Hayes said he believes it's much less of an issue for Democrats in a general election than it would be in a Democratic primary, with a serious younger candidate to challenge Biden.

"Partisan loyalty among Democrats does a lot to paper over their concerns about Biden's age. And I think in a general election, it's going to probably matter a lot less than a lot of other things."

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen riding a bicycle along a stretch of beach in South Carolina in August 2022.

Meanwhile, Cristóbal Alex, a former senior adviser on Biden's 2020 campaign, dismissed it as a potential issue.

"I realize that it's a point that gets brought up in the media a lot. I worked with him in the White House, and he has more energy and runs his staff ragged because he's always on the go," Alex said.

"I don't think this is an issue at all, especially when you compare that to his likely challenger, who is just a little bit younger than him, but certainly not in better shape than Biden."

Biden's approval rating has dropped

But Biden's other main problem is that he enters the race burdened by approval ratings that have been net negative for about two years.

Biden entered the White House with an approval rating of about 53 per cent, but that number has since sunk. While he has racked up some legislative achievements, including a major infrastructure bill, Biden's current approval rating is 43 per cent, while 53 per cent disapprove, according to the FiveThirtyEight national polling average,

A white-haired man wearing a blue suit removes a black face mask.

The president's popularity suffered shortly after the U.S. military's controversial withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, and it remained low as the country dealt with the Delta variant of the coronavirus and the impact of inflation.

"The key question for Biden is whether a president can win re-election with an approval rating in the low-to-mid 40s," wrote Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political newsletter out of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

(Trump's approval rating at the same point in his presidency was 41 per cent, with a disapproval score of 53 per cent.)

Biden's approval rating needs to improve significantly, to about 50 per cent or better, by the time voters go to the polls in November 2024, Kondik wrote, or otherwise the "soft" Biden disapprovers may decide the election.

"If they vote against Biden en masse, he is likely doomed."

Which is why, Kondik said in an interview with CBC News that "I think he's pretty dependent on having a weak Republican opponent. And, you know, Republicans may very well oblige."

WATCH l What Trump's presidential run means for the Republicans and Biden:

What a Trump 2024 presidential run means for the GOP and Biden

5 months ago

Duration 9:28

Karoun Demirjian, national security correspondent with the Washington Post, and Kelly Jane Torrance, op-ed editor for the New York Post, break down the implications of Donald Trump's announcement that he's running for the U.S. presidency (again) in 2024.

If they do oblige, the 2024 election would not only be a rematch of 2020, but the main issue could become whether Americans want at least another four years of a Trump administration.

"I think that's true," said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. "When we voted for Joe Biden in 2020, it was a vote, as people said, for sanity, a return to normalcy. This will be a vote for a continuation of normal things."

Hayes said a typical challenger to a sitting president presiding over a so-so economy would be to talk about that issue, how you would fix it, and how the current president has gotten it wrong.

"But that's not the kind of campaigner that Trump is. And so Trump would probably make a lot of the campaign about himself, which would suit Biden just fine."


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

    With files from The Associated Press, Reuters

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