President Joe Biden is currently polling lower than most of our last six presidents at this point in their first term. The only one who consistently matched these abysmally low numbers is his likely opponent in 2024, former President Donald Trump. The 2024 election is looking to be a rematch between two of the most deeply-disliked presidents in America’s recent past.
A recent, and much-talked-about, New York Times/Siena poll shows Trump leading in battleground states, and it is far from the only source to show this. Meanwhile, Biden has lost ground among Democrats with his approval dropping 11% over the course of October.
Why is Biden polling so low? For one thing, Americans are deeply pessimistic about the economy. About half of respondents say that their personal financial situation has worsened since Biden was elected. Only 19% of registered voters rated the economy excellent or good, while 81% rated it fair or poor.
However, by most measures, the U.S. economy is doing exceedingly well. Compared to other wealthy nations, the U.S. economy has recovered remarkably well from the COVID-19-induced downturn. We have the highest GDP growth since 2019 among G7 countries and are experiencing significantly less inflation than countries such as Italy, Germany, France and the U.K. Unemployment has also returned to its pre-pandemic lows.
American families are also financially better off. The Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances found that between 2019–22, American families’ income and net worth have increased. Additionally, mortgage debt has held steady, while the most widely held type of debt — credit card debt — has markedly decreased. Overall, family debt burdens have decreased. And, of particular interest to many in the Tufts community, Biden has canceled $127 billion in student debt — after his original plan to cancel more than $400 billion was blocked by the Supreme Court.
Yes, Americans are still experiencing high prices as the astronomical inflation peaking in summer 2022 recedes. But as the feared recession continues to fail to materialize, is the flack Biden is getting on the economy really fair?
Furthermore, Biden has made real strides on multiple fronts. His 2022 Inflation Reduction Act has not only been found to drastically reduce carbon emissions but has also shown that climate action can be profitable. It has also lowered out-of-pocket prescription drug prices, an issue that affects many Americans, and raised corporate taxes, a measure nearly two-thirds of Americans approve of. In addition, Biden created the first Office of Gun Violence Prevention and signed the first major gun-safety bill in decades. In doing so, he confronted an issue that a majority of Americans agree on in the wake of countless high-profile mass shootings and amid an epidemic of gun violence. The 2023 election results show that abortion access, which the Biden administration has vocally and tangibly supported, remains at the top of voters’ minds after the fall of Roe v. Wade.
That’s not to say that Biden’s been a perfect president. Americans across the political spectrum disapprove of his handling of immigration. And, though most Americans supported withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan last year, even higher percentages of Americans disapproved of the way Biden handled the situation.
In addition, a major concern that drives Biden’s detractors is his age. An NBC News survey found that 70% of Americans, 51% of which are Democrats, say Biden shouldn’t run again; and half of those Americans cite his age as a major reason why.
The 2024 election, however, is a competition, not a referendum. The question is not whether you think Biden is a good president or deserves a second term. In our two-party system, it’s whether you think he’s better than Trump.
And when the match-up is Joe Biden against Donald Trump, it’s not just a question of competence — it’s a question of democracy. Among the four criminal indictments Trump is facing, two relate to his attempts to overturn and interfere with the 2020 election. It’s also a question of morality; earlier this year, Trump was found liable for sexual abuse in a civil case. He has also been found guilty of fraud, which doesn’t inspire confidence from a national leader, not to mention his two impeachments.
Ultimately, the vast majority of Republicans don’t believe that Trump should have been charged in any of these cases and would vote for him in 2024. But there’s still plenty of time for the national polling numbers to change. Democrats need to win over the skeptical centrist Democrats, independents and even moderate and “Never Trump” Republicans. They must highlight the strength of the economy and the benefits of Biden’s policies. Most of all, they must frame this contest as what it is — a fight for the future of our democracy. They can’t let the American people forget what it was like to watch the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
As voters, we must remember that America ultimately operates as a two-party system. A vote for a third-party candidate — such as proven conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Green Party candidate Jill Stein or maybe even Senator Joe Manchin — is worthless when they certainly cannot win. Whatever your personal feelings on Biden are, would you rather vote for a mediocre president or for one who has openly attacked our democracy and flaunted the laws that the rest of us follow?