U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement that he will run for reelection in 2024 has left voters in his own Democratic party divided and generated far less immediate enthusiasm from the party faithful than bids by other recent presidents seeking a second term.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but my initial reaction was disappointment,” said Jamie Leff, a musician living in Houston, Texas. “He has an extremely low approval rating and he’s so old. It just feels like he’s not the proper person to be running the country.”
The 80-year-old Biden is the oldest American president to seek reelection.
“We young voters want to see big changes and progress,” Leff, 32, added, “and can he give us that? I’m not sure. But he is the sitting president, which means he’s probably our best option and so we need to support him.”
Leff isn’t alone among Democrats.
Less than half (47%) of Democrats said they wanted President Biden to run for reelection according to an April poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Even so, a commanding 81% of Democrats polled said they would “at least probably support” Biden in the general election against a Republican opponent.
“It seems that Democratic voters — especially younger voters — are ready to move on to a new, exciting generation of politicians,” explained University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock.
“But do you know who most Democrats would want even less than an old president?” Bullock asked. “A Republican president — and especially Donald Trump president.”
An American gerontocracy?
“All politics in America kind of feels like a gerontocracy, doesn’t it?” asked Leff.
According to a recent survey by USA Today/Suffolk University, half of Americans said their ideal age for a president was between 51 and 65. Another quarter of respondents said their preference was a candidate who was no more than 50 years of age.
“I think there’s a desire among many of us to elect people who aren’t afraid to speak up and who don’t give a damn about old, antiquated rules,” Yasmeen Husain, a Democratic voter in New Orleans, Louisiana, told VOA.
Bullock said, “People look at Biden and ask if the Democratic party is a gerontocracy, propping up its oldest politicians but the Republican party’s most recent leader is only four years younger. I think it’s something that’s plaguing both sides.”
Bullock noted that younger Democrats in Congress are taking on leadership roles within the party, but he believes voters on both sides of the political spectrum want younger choices.
Jillian Streger, a Republican voter from Merritt Island, Florida, agrees.
“I really think Biden’s mental health is starting to decline,” she told VOA. “I don’t say that in a mean way, it just seems like he’s having trouble focusing and completing sentences.
“But I think Republicans would do a lot better if we picked a newer, stronger candidate than Trump,” Streger continued. “He’s pushing voters away from our side, too.”
Former President Donald Trump announced last year he will seek to return to the White House.
Norma Rodrigues is a senior citizen who works as a translator in Miami, Florida. A Democrat, she acknowledges age will likely play a factor in Biden’s reelection bid.
“I had mixed feelings when I heard he was running for reelection,” Rodrigues told VOA. “His age is a concern because it means a higher probability of potential health issues, but also because of age prejudice that exists with some voters.”
She hopes, however, it’s not the most important factor.
“Despite age, I think he’s been a good president,” she said. “Biden doesn’t divide people or incite hate. I feel his conciliatory approach has brought respect and dignity, and that’s something this country has needed very badly after recent years.”
Independent voters, a critical bloc of the American electorate, helped Biden defeat Trump in 2020. Democrats are hopeful for a repeat of that support in 2024, and that Biden’s temperament will once again appeal to independents.
“Listen, he’s old and he stutters, which isn’t the best combo for impassioned speeches,” said Abby Rae Lacombe of Pennsylvania, an independent voter with anti-Trump leanings, “but I think he’s been really good at handling a whole lot of high-level crises.
“He guided us through COVID-19, he stood up for ‘proper’ interventionism against Russia without going too far, he’s managed to avoid a recession longer than most thought possible, and he handled a major security leak,” Lacombe said. “All of that, and our alternative is a fascist GOP, so I think the choice is clear.”
Republican voters like Alberto Perez, from the rural town of Blairsville, Georgia, harshly grade Biden’s performance.
“I promised myself I would give him a year before I passed judgment,” Perez told VOA. “I ignored the mumbling and the incoherent sentences, and I still feel like his term has been a disaster. His departure from Afghanistan was a mess, his mandate that our hero nurses be vaccinated was tyrannical ... and his war on gas companies has contributed to record inflation.
“The only policy I agreed with was the infrastructure bill he passed,” Perez added, “but progress has even been hard to see there.”
Political scientists like Bullock warned Biden might struggle to get credit from voters on accomplishments like the infrastructure bill because of how long it takes for many projects to reach completion.
But Robert Collins, a professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard University in New Orleans, argues that a list of Oval Office accomplishments will likely not be the deciding factor in the 2024 presidential election.
“These days there are two proven ways to motivate people to the polls,” he told VOA. “There’s hope — but nobody has appealed to hope since Obama — and there’s also fear. A fear of what happens if the other guy or woman gets elected.”
Trump, Collins said, is an easy target for voters to fear.
“That’s why Biden beats Trump in early polling,” he said, “but Biden struggles against relative newcomer [Florida Republican Governor] Ron DeSantis. Would Democrats be better off in a matchup against DeSantis with someone other than Biden? We don’t know, and we won’t know.”
The reasons, Collins said, are twofold. One is that challenging an incumbent president for the nomination rarely succeeds and often harms the party in a general election. Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican George H.W. Bush both fended off challenges from within their respective parties only to lose their reelection bids months later, Carter in 1980 and Bush in 1992. That history is likely to dissuade any would-be Biden challengers.
The other reason, according to Collins, is that Democrats don’t appear to have a deep bench of viable candidates beyond the current president.
“Vice President Harris was supposed to be the heir apparent,” he explained, “but it’s become obvious that she is — for whatever reason — very unpopular with voters. Even Democrats don’t seem to like her very much.”
Husain from New Orleans admits she was at first disappointed to learn that Biden was running for reelection. The more she thinks about it, however, the more she is warming to his decision.
“I wouldn’t say he’s the lesser of two evils because I do believe he’s inherently a good man,” she said, “and maybe against these Trump-like Republicans, that’s what we need. He’s our safest option, and that could be the best bet against the other side’s extremism.”