If elected, Biden would be the oldest person to occupy the White House. But he’s by far the most popular candidate the Democrats have.
A fter months of speculation, the US president, Joe Biden, has confirmed his intention to seek reelection in 2024. In his video announcement, Biden promised to stand up against “MAGA extremists” and called on Americans to give him the chance to “finish the job”, saying:
The Republican party countered immediately, showing an AI-generated video on the GOP YouTube channel that depicted a dystopian future if Biden was reelected, using fake reports of increasing crime rates, illegal immigration and financial chaos.
There seems to be little enthusiasm for a second Biden term among Americans. His Gallup job approval rating at the end of his third year in office was just 40% – below Ronald Reagan’s (41%) in 1983 and only a point above Donald Trump’s in 2019 (39%).
According to a recent CBS News poll, almost half (45%) of Democrats think that Biden shouldn’t run. A huge 86% of those who thought he shouldn’t run stated that their main cause of concern was Biden’s age, while 77% felt it was time for someone new.
However, a slew of opinion polls assembled by the influential US politics blog FiveThirtyEight have found that Biden would beat any of the other Democrat politicians touted as possible nominees.
The age-old question
Born on November 20 1942, Biden would be 82 at the start of a second term and 86 by its end – the oldest person to be elected president and serve in the office. One focus group of swing voters deemed Biden too old, with a panellist saying: “Give that man a break!”
But columnist Abhi Rahman has argued that Biden’s age should be seen as a strength, not a weakness, and that he has the potential to make significant ground for Democrats in the next election, much like Reagan did in 1984 – another president whose age was raised as a concern by his opponents.
Just like Biden, even Reagan’s own party was worried about his age before his first election in 1980, at the (relatively) youthful age of 70. Republican leaders’ worries about whether Reagan would be able to “maintain his energy level” throughout his presidency were underlined by a claim by former president Jimmy Carter that he could not have dealt with the challenges of the office at the age 80.
Republicans are less likely to point to Biden’s age as an issue. Trump, currently the likeliest candidate to be the Republican nominee, has said that Biden’s age is not an issue – which is unsurprising given that Trump will be almost 79 at the next election.
Instead, Republicans have focused on the issues that continue to challenge the Biden administration: inflation and immigration concerns at the southern border.
While Democrats are not entirely happy with Biden running again because of his age, it is unlikely anyone will pose a significant threat to his nomination. Carter was the last incumbent to be challenged for the nomination when Senator Edward Kennedy threw his hat into the ring in 1980. Kennedy was unsuccessful then and his nephew, Robert F Kennedy Jr, poses no serious challenge to Biden with his current campaign for the nomination.
Biden’s confirmation of his intention to run included his selection of the vice-president, Kamala Harris, as his running mate. Questions had been raised about whether Biden might have chosen someone else for the ticket. Instead, he has identified Harris as his nominated successor, an issue that had concerned many Democrats.
In her statement, Harris called the 2024 election “a pivotal moment in our history” and told Americans that she and the president “look forward to finishing the job, winning this battle for the soul of the nation, and serving the American people for four more years in the White House”.
Harris’s selection is important. As columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times, Biden’s age – and possible failing health while in office – means Americans are voting as much for the vice-president as they are Biden, “more than in any other election in American history”.
But why break a winning formula? Recent polls indicate that a Biden-Harris ticket currently offers the best possible chance for a Democrat victory against either Trump or Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis.
Unlike Trump, Biden has portrayed himself as a president for all Americans, not just those who voted for him. His public courting of Republican collaboration on the passing of his landmark infrastructure bills made small steps to bridging the partisan gap in American politics. This may provide a bridge for the Democratic party of tomorrow to appeal to some Republicans.
Such bipartisan appeal gains even more importance when considering that the 2024 presidential election may be the end of a cycle – the passing of the old guard.
The 2028 election will require a new generation of political leaders to step into the vacuum. If he wins in 2024, Biden will constitutionally be unable to stand, having had two terms in office. If Trump loses for a second time, he will not be trusted with the nomination again. And if Biden loses, it is unlikely he will run at the age of 86.
Increasingly politically active millennial voters, who turned out in high numbers in the 2022 midterms, have the potential to change the political landscape of the 2028 election, and are becoming the target audience of the next set of presidential candidates. Who these will be is currently a mystery, but contenders will likely be jockeying for the box-seat between 2024 and the next election.
Until then, it appears almost certain that Democrats will put their faith in the Biden-Harris ticket for one more term.
— AUTHOR —
▫ Dafydd Townley, Teaching Fellow in International Security, University of Portsmouth.
▪ Text: This piece was originally published in The Conversation and re-published in PMP Magazine on 26 April 2023. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
▪ Cover: Flickr/The White House. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)