President Joe Biden had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. He’s under an impeachment inquiry, his son was indicted in Delaware, inflation seems to be tilting back up, the United Auto Workers went on strike after Biden said they wouldn’t, and the chattering class is talking about him not running for reelection.
Some of these factors explain why my colleague Zach Wolf wrote that “Biden’s two worst weaknesses were exposed” this past week, and it’s also why I’ve written about the president’s difficulties heading into next year.
But while Biden clearly has problems – no president with an approval rating hovering around 40% is in good shape – some of his issues appear to be overblown at this time. Here are three reasons why:
1. Biden’s going to win the Democratic primary, unless something drastic happens
A Washington Post op-ed by columnist David Ignatius that called on Biden not to run for reelection got a lot of play this past week.
Putting aside whether Biden should or shouldn’t run, the fact is that he is running. A lot of people will point to polls (like those from CNN) showing that a majority of Democrats don’t think the party should renominate him.
But these surveys only tell you so much. They’re matching Biden against himself and not anyone else. When asked in the CNN poll to name a preferred alternative to Biden, only a little more than 10% wanted someone else and could name a specific person.
Moreover, Biden’s job approval rating with Democrats hovers around 80%. That is well above the level at which past incumbents have faced strong primary challenges. Those challenges (such as when Ted Kennedy challenged incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980) came at a time when the president had an approval rating in the 50s or 60s among his own party members.
It is worth analyzing whether the fact that a lot of Democrats don’t think Biden should be renominated masks a larger problem he could face in a general election.
But Biden’s pulling in more than 90% of Democrats in Fox News and Quinnipiac University general election polling released this past week. In both polls, his share slightly exceeded former President Donald Trump’s among Republicans (though within the margin of error).
The fact is Biden’s got problems, but worrying about renomination is not one of them.
2. The impeachment inquiry isn’t damaging Biden … yet
From a political point of view, Biden’s connections to his son Hunter have caused the president nothing but heartache. Most voters think Biden did something inappropriate related to his son’s business dealings.
So, it might naturally follow that House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry into the president’s ties to his son’s foreign business deals would be harmful to his political future.
About 40% of voters, on average, think Joe Biden did something illegal. Most voters don’t.
Some Republicans are no doubt hoping that Biden’s own troubles will make their likely nominee (Trump), who is under four indictments, look less bad by comparison. A majority of voters, however, think that Trump committed a crime.
The public doesn’t see the Biden and Trump cases the same way.
A Wall Street Journal poll from the end of August found that a majority of Americans (52%) did not want Biden to be impeached.
Republicans will have to prove their case in the court of public opinion.
It’s conceivable that Republicans will overshoot the mark like they have in the past. The impeachment inquiry into Bill Clinton in 1998 preceded one of the best performances by a president’s party in a midterm election. Clinton’s Democratic Party picked up seats in the House, which has happened three times for the president’s party in midterms over the last century.
To see how impeachment could turn things upside down for the GOP this cycle, consider independent voters. While the vast majority of independents disapprove of the job Biden is doing as president (64%) in our latest CNN poll, only 39% think he did something illegal.
An election about a potentially unpopular impeachment would be better for Biden than one about an issue that really hurts him (such as voters seeing him as too old).
3. Voters don’t like the state of the economy; it may not matter that much
Stop me if you heard this one before: Biden is the president heading into an election, voters are unhappy with the state of the economy, and his party does much better in the elections than a lot of people thought.
That’s what happened in the 2022 midterms.
The inflation rate is lower now than it was then, but it’s on the uptick. Voters, both now and then, overwhelmingly disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy. They even say the economy matters more than any other issue, like they did in 2022.
What none of this data takes into account is that Americans almost always call the economy the top issue, according to Gallup.
Believe it or not, fewer Americans say the economy is the top problem facing the country now (31%) than they have in either the median (40%) or average (45%) presidential election since 1988.
If you think about recent presidential elections in which the economy was the big issue (1992, 2008 and 2012), the state of the economy dominated the headlines.
But as mentioned above, right now, there are a lot of other things going on in the country, as was also the case during the 2022 midterms.
It’s not as if the economy is helping Biden. I’m just not sure it’s hurting him.
After all, there’s a reason why Democrats have consistently outperformed the 2020 presidential baseline in special elections this year.
If things were really that bad for Biden and the Democrats, they’d most likely be losing elections all over the country. That simply isn’t happening at this point.
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