Americans Are Unusually Lukewarm About A Second Biden Term
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President Biden says he’ll run for reelection in 2024. But some Americans don’t believe him — and moreover, many don’t want him to throw his hat into the ring for a second term.
Even before Biden was elected in 2020, there’s been speculation about whether he’ll seek a second term. And a Wall Street Journal poll conducted from March 2-7 found that more than half (52 percent) of registered voters don’t think he’ll run again in 2024, while only 29 percent think he will run again. (Nineteen percent were unsure.) A second Biden run isn’t that popular, either. According to an AP/NORC poll conducted from Jan. 13-18, 70 percent of Americans don’t want the president to run in 2024. Even Democrats are lukewarm about the idea. A CNN/SSRS poll conducted from Jan. 10-Feb. 6 found that slightly more than half (51 percent) of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents wanted a candidate other than Biden.
Part of this might simply reflect that Americans are unenthusiastic about a redux of the 2020 election. In that AP/NORC poll, a similar share (72 percent) said they didn’t want former President Donald Trump to run for reelection either. It’s actually surprisingly common for voters to say they don’t want first-term presidents to seek a second term — to only then turn around and support them when they do run for reelection. However, the share of Americans who don’t want Biden to seek a second term is unusually high compared to previous first-term presidents. It’s also uncommon for voters to think that a sitting president won’t run for reelection.
There’s no question that concerns about Biden’s age could be playing a role. He’s already the oldest president in U.S. history and will be 81 by the time 2024 rolls around. But some voters might also think it’s time for Biden, who pitched himself as a “bridge” to a new generation of political leaders, to step aside in favor of a candidate who’s not an old, white man.
Ultimately, though, it’s exceptionally rare for a first-term president to decide not to run for reelection. Only six presidents have chosen to bow out after serving one full term. Four of those presidents had actually been in the White House for more than four years because they took over from former presidents who had died in office. The last president to deliberately call it quits after serving for four years was Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880.
That explains why voters tend to (correctly) assume that presidents will run for a second term. At the end of 1982, a midterm year when President Ronald Reagan’s party lost seats in Congress, a majority of Americans nevertheless thought he would run again in 1984. Similarly, a Newsweek poll conducted in December 1994 found that 85 percent of Americans thought President Bill Clinton would run again in 1996, despite his party suffering massive losses in that year’s midterm elections. A Quinnipiac poll conducted in December 2018 also found that most Americans (81 percent) believed that Trump would run again in 2020.
Whether voters are actually happy about a first-term president running for reelection is an open question, though. A Harris poll conducted in August 1982 found that a majority (56 percent) of Americans thought Reagan shouldn’t run again. In December 1994, slightly more Americans thought Clinton shouldn’t run for reelection (47 percent) than thought he should (44 percent). But it’s not always the case that Americans don’t want a first-term president to run again. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in October 2010 found that more Americans said President Barack Obama should run for reelection (47 percent) than shouldn’t (42 percent).
So in a sense, Biden’s case isn’t that unusual — or even that alarming for his supporters. It’s true that the share of Americans who don’t want him to run for reelection is much higher than it was for Reagan, Clinton or Obama. But unhappiness with a president running again doesn’t tell us much about their ultimate electoral chances if they do try for a second term. Despite voters’ misgivings two years earlier, Reagan won by a wide margin in 1984, as did Clinton in 1996.
That said, there are a few reasons to think that Americans might view the prospect of a second Biden run differently than those of previous presidents. In that CNN/SSRS poll from earlier this year, 31 percent of Democrats who wanted the party to nominate someone else said they simply didn’t want Biden to be reelected, 35 percent thought he couldn’t win against the Republicans, and 19 percent said they thought he was too old. That level of skepticism from voters of a president’s own party is pretty abnormal — consider that a Suffolk poll of Republican primary voters conducted in April 2018 found that most (70 percent) wanted Trump to run again. In other words, the fact that so many Democrats have concerns about Biden is perhaps worrying for him.
Biden’s age has also been a problem for voters that has hovered in the background for years. If he’s elected to a second term, he’ll be 86 when he leaves office — nearly a decade older than Reagan, who had previously been America’s oldest president at 77. In 2020, a Pew Research Center poll found that 31 percent of registered voters who supported Biden were concerned about his age and health. There’s evidence, too, that Americans generally have reservations about electing a candidate of advanced age. A YouGov poll conducted in January, for instance, found that 58 percent of Americans support a maximum age limit for elected officials.
But it’s also possible that something else is going on: Some Americans might want Biden to step aside in favor of someone else. Perhaps they’d prefer someone who better represents the party’s growing diversity, or someone who is perceived as having a better shot at defeating the Republican nominee in 2024. After all, Biden’s approval ratings are low and his support has eroded among young voters, Latinos, and Black voters in particular. Those voters might be dissatisfied with Biden’s inability to deliver on the sweeping promises he made at the beginning of his term. Or they might just be afraid he can’t win.
Other polling bites
- Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the economy, according to a new report from Gallup. In May, Gallup’s economic confidence index — a metric that summarizes how Americans are feeling about the economy on a scale from 100 to -100 — came in at -45, down from -39 in the previous two months. It’s likely the lowest that Americans’ confidence in the economy has been since the Great Recession.
- Just in time for Pride Month, a Gallup survey conducted from May 2-22 found that 71 percent of Americans support legal same-sex marriage. That’s not a noticeable change from last year when 70 percent of Americans said they supported same-sex marriage, but Gallup’s trend is a reminder of how much public opinion on this issue has shifted over the past two decades. In 2004, less than half (42 percent) of Americans supported same-sex marriage. And ten years ago, in 2012, support was hovering right around 50 percent.
- Following the leak of a Supreme Court opinion that suggested five justices may be willing to overturn Roe v. Wade, a Wall Street Journal/NORC poll conducted from May 9-17 found that Americans remain firmly opposed to the move. Two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans said they would not like to see the court overturn Roe, which established the constitutional right to abortion in 1973, while 30 percent said they would like to see that outcome. The poll also found that the share of Americans who say a woman should be able to have an abortion for any reason (57 percent) is at its highest point since NORC began asking the question in 1977.
- Should kids be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in schools each day? A YouGov poll conducted on June 2 found that a majority (52 percent) of Americans think so, while 33 percent say they shouldn’t be required to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and 15 percent said they’re not sure.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 40.8 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 53.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -13.1 points). At this time last week, 40.5 percent approved and 54.3 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -13.8 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 42.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.3 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,2 Republicans currently lead by 2.2 percentage points (45.0 percent to 42.8 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 2.2 points (45.0 percent to 42.8 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 2.4 points (45.2 percent to 42.8 percent).