Biden allies shrug off poor poll numbers, focus on his record

The White House and President Biden’s campaign are brushing off poor poll numbers and persistent worries about the president’s age, focusing instead on getting the word out about the administration’s work and building up public perception of Biden’s record as he campaigns for another term.

Biden’s approval rating dropped to 39 percent in the latest CNN poll, down from 41 percent in July and a drop from 45 percent at the start of this year. Roughly three-quarters of Americans in the poll said they don’t think Biden has the stamina and sharpness to serve effectively as president — and said they’re worried about his ability to serve another full term.

But the president’s allies are largely shrugging off the results, which also showcased pessimism about how Biden’s policies are impacting the economy and sentiments that Democrats should nominate someone else in 2024.

A campaign spokesperson said the Biden-Harris team will win reelection in 2024 “by putting our heads down and doing the work, not by fretting about polls” and stressed that the president’s agenda is both popular and delivering results. 

A White House spokesperson said polling is “imperfect” and drew attention to the 2022 midterms, when surveys appeared to predict a “red wave” for Republicans, but Democrats ultimately won key races to hold onto control of the Senate. 

“On November 1, 2022, CNN wrote, ‘The bottom is dropping out of the 2022 election for Democrats.’ Days later, they wrote, ‘Democrats confront their nightmare scenario on election eve as economic concerns overshadow abortion and democracy worries. To be fair to CNN, they were far from alone. Polling is imperfect, especially in today’s environment,’” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told The Hill in a statement. 

A former Biden West Wing staffer notes that one poll doesn’t hold that much sway.

“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,” said CNN political contributor Kate Bedingfield, who was White House communications director until early this year. She added that the team is “not going to adjust strategy based on one poll” this far from 2024. 

“So what the Biden campaign is going to do is keep talking about his record, talking about how they’re making lives better for people,” Bedingfield said.

Biden allies are stressing the importance of getting the word out about the president’s record on key issues — like the economy and climate — as it appears many voters are simply unaware of what the administration has been up to in its first two-and-a-half years. 

“There’s a massive disconnect between public perception and reality. The reality is: Biden has an outstanding record. That’s not the public perception by any means,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

Biden just celebrated a year since signing the historic Inflation Reduction Act and is touting his “Bidenomics” agenda — but 58 percent in the CNN poll think Biden’s policies have worsened economic conditions in the country.

“The story hasn’t gotten out of what the president’s done on climate, what the president’s done on infrastructure, what the president’s done on a whole host of issues. And it’s hard to get those stories out. But that’s one of the burdens that they face,” Mellman said.

Courtney Couillard, a research manager at the public opinion research firm HIT Strategies, said her firm has noted a lack of awareness about some of the Biden administration’s initiatives. But research indicates that once voters learn more about a given bill or plan, they often become more approving of it and more confident in the president’s ability to act on those issues.

“It’s not that they dislike the president’s work. They simply are yet to become familiar with it,” Couillard said. 

Biden faces no significant challengers from within the Democratic Party as he runs for reelection. On the Republican side, former President Trump is the clear GOP front-runner, setting up a possible Biden-Trump rematch.

But just a third of Democrat and Democrat-leaning independent voters in the CNN poll said they want Biden to be the party’s nominee in 2024, while roughly two-thirds said they’d want a different candidate. 

Democrats’ leading concern about Biden as a candidate was his age, with 49 percent saying the party needs “someone younger.” The next highest concern, at 7 percent, was Biden’s “mental competence.” 

The worries have long plagued Biden’s reelection effort, leading some on the right to argue that a vote for Biden is a vote for Vice President Harris, who has recently affirmed she’s prepared to be president “if necessary,” but insisted that Biden “is going to be fine.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a co-chairman of Biden’s reelection campaign, shrugged off the age-related concerns. 

“I don’t think his age matters as much as his seasoning, his experience, his leadership, and his ability,” Coons said of the findings on CNN’s “Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”  

The senator highlighted that the poll also showed Biden and former President Trump in a statistical dead heat in a 2024 hypothetical match-up: 46 percent of voters said they’d pick the Democratic incumbent, while 47 percent said they’d pick Trump. Another 5 percent picked “other,” and 2 percent said they don’t plan to vote. 

That leftover 7 percent “can make a decisive difference” if they do switch to either Trump or Biden in the next year, Mellman said. 

Jim Kessler, co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way, suggested that it might be fair to start paying more attention to polling in March. 

“For the most part I look at these polls with a collective eye roll. At this point in their respective races, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were all losing, and they all ended up winning, and some by a landslide,” said Kessler.

Still, some in the party are acknowledging that the numbers aren’t ideal for the president as the 2024 race heats up.

“These numbers are not good, and they’re consistent with most of the other polling that we’ve seen, that [the] country is in a sour mood,” said David Axelrod, a former Obama White House and campaign strategist, on CNN, adding that Biden “would be in deep, deep trouble” if the polling was a referendum. 

“He’s not getting credit for what I think is a fairly substantial list of achievements, and there is real concern about his age, and that has been true for some time. It continues to be true,” Axelrod said.

Mellman acknowledged “it’s going to take time” to get public perception in sync with reality when it comes to the president’s record, but said the good news is that there’s more than a year before Election Day 2024 for the campaign to make that happen.

Couillard noted recent efforts to raise public awareness about Biden’s work. His campaign last week dropped an ad highlighting his global leadership amid the war in Ukraine, and another showcasing his economic agenda during the NFL season opener.

“They’re just getting started on this path of really communicating their progress. And I think once that starts to seep in and connect with voters across the country, that’s when we’re going to see, hopefully, some shifts in that public opinion,” Couillard said. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “part of the job” before next November is reaching the American people about Biden’s work. “I can’t do polls. I’m not good at this. But I can tell you this, the president is doing a great job. And how do I know that? I just look at what he’s delivered,” she said.

Brett Samuels contributed.

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