Democrats wake up to red flags over Biden’s latest poll numbers

Democrats woke up Thursday to yet another poll showing a large percentage of voters are concerned about President Biden’s age and data that showed most GOP primary candidates fared well in hypothetical match-ups with Biden.

CNN poll contained numerous red flags for Biden and Democrats. It found 46 percent of registered voters said any Republican presidential nominee would be better than Biden in next year’s election, and 49 percent said Biden’s age was their biggest concern about him as a candidate in 2024.

Biden’s overall approval rating in the poll was 39 percent, and just 74 percent among Democrats.

And in hypothetical head-to-heads, Biden is neck and neck with most of his potential Republican opponents, including former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) led Biden by 6 points in a theoretical general election match-up between the two, according to the CNN poll.

Some Democrats and Biden allies were quick to argue that it’s far too early in the 2024 cycle to put much stock in head-to-head matchups, that Biden has a strong track record to run on and that his campaign is already using resources to mobilize voters and run ads in battleground states.

But the reality is that the CNN poll is only the latest in a string of troubling surveys that show Biden’s approval remains stagnant and his age continues to be a concern for voters.

“These numbers are not good, and they’re consistent with most of the other polling that we’ve seen. The country is in a sour mood. He’s not getting credit for what I think is a fairly substantial list of achievements,” David Axelrod, a former Obama White House and campaign strategist, said on CNN. 

“And the reality is, if this were a referendum, he would be in deep, deep trouble,” he added. “There’s an expression in sports that, you know, sometimes you have to win ugly. And I think that’s what lies ahead here for this president and this White House.”

While a number of Democratic strategists and pollsters said they wouldn’t put much stock in the CNN poll alone, it is part of a larger trend of recent surveys that have shown voters are concerned about Biden’s age. The president is 80, and he would be 86 at the end of a potential second term.

Wall Street Journal poll conducted Aug. 24-30 found 42 percent of voters approve of Biden’s performance as president, and 73 percent of registered voters said the phrase “too old to run for president” described Biden well.

An Associated Press/NORC poll also conducted in late August found that 77 percent of Americans and 69 percent of Democrats think Biden is too old for a second term, though 82 percent of Democrats said they would probably or definitely support him as the party’s nominee.

Vice President Harris, who this week traveled to Indonesia, sat for interviews with The Associated Press and CBS News. In both cases, she was asked about her readiness to serve as president, a nod to the persistent storyline about Biden’s age and ability to serve out a second term.

Harris said she is prepared to serve as commander in chief “if necessary,” but added, “Joe Biden is going to be fine.” 

“Let me tell you something: I work with Joe Biden every day,” Harris told CBS. “The work that under Joe Biden’s leadership our administration has accomplished is transformative. I think the American people most of all want a leader who actually gets things done.”

The CNN poll found that while roughly two-thirds of Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents want someone other than Biden as their nominee, the vast majority could not name a specific alternative, underscoring the reality that Biden is the party’s standard-bearer heading into the 2024 cycle.

Only a few fringe candidates are pursuing primary challenges against the president, and more high-profile individuals who seemed to flirt with entering the race, such as California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), have since said they have no plans to launch a campaign, further solidifying Biden as the party’s nominee.

Even with his path cleared of a serious challenger, Democrats believe the White House and the president’s campaign will have to formulate a response to questions about his age, which show no signs of going away.

Jim Kessler, co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way, said he was not concerned about the CNN poll broadly, but it underscored the reality that Biden’s age is top of mind for many voters and will be a point of attack for Republicans.

“I think they need to make an offensive case and a defensive case,” Kessler said, suggesting Biden and his team must make the argument simultaneously that experience matters, and that Republicans are going after Biden’s age because their attacks on his record aren’t landing.

Biden allies have also noted that polls at this time during former President Obama’s first term similarly showed the then-incumbent trailing prospective Republican challengers. 

They also noted that polling suggested in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms that a so-called red wave would lead to massive Republican gains in Congress, only for the GOP to fall well short of expectations.

“The Biden White House is not going to be rattled by this because their view is there are going to be 500 polls between now and Election Day,” former White House Communications Director and longtime Biden aide Kate Bedingfield said Thursday on CNN. 

“But there’s a lot of information that isn’t here,” she continued. “That’s a reminder that campaigns don’t happen in a vacuum. And it’s on the Biden campaign to make this election a choice and to make it about the contrast between what Republicans are offering and what Biden is offering.”

Tags David Axelrod Dean Phillips Donald Trump Gavin Newsom Jim Kessler Joe Biden Joe Biden Kamala Harris Kate Bedingfield Nikki Haley Nikki Haley Ron DeSantis