A poll last weekend confronted American President Joe Biden with the facts. If he wants to succeed himself next year in an expected battle with Donald Trump, Biden will have to work hard.
Trump radiates energy, Biden seems exhausted
Biden will celebrate his 81st birthday later this month, making him the oldest president of the United States ever. “Too old,” says 71 percent of Americans who participated in a poll by the American newspaper New York Times and Siena College. Trump is only four years younger than Biden. Yet his age is less of a problem for him: 39 percent of the entire electorate considers him too old. “Whether you love him or hate him, you cannot ignore the fact that Trump radiates energy,” says professor of American politics Bart Kerremans (KU Leuven).
Biden has great difficulty attracting the youngest voters or voters with a migration background – the group on whose shoulders he built his 2020 election victory. They recognize themselves neither in him nor in Trump. But if this group does not vote – which is likely – it will pose a problem for Biden in particular. Trump is not counting on their votes.
In short: Biden has an image problem with the voters who gave him victory three years ago. Or like New York Times it states: “If the polls indicate that it shouldn’t be that difficult to beat Trump, then they also show that it will be very difficult for Biden to do so.”
It’s the economy, stupid
Biden released a lot of money to invest in the American economy. Only: no American notices anything in his wallet. What do they feel? The inflation. This was still 3.7 percent in September. “For most Americans, that loss of purchasing power is difficult,” says Kerremans. “But for part of the population it is downright difficult to make ends meet. That is a clear political disadvantage for Biden. Shaking that off won’t be easy.”
“Compare it a bit with the rising crime rates and the many images of people addicted to tranq and other drugs walking around like zombies in the city of Philadelphia,” says Kristiaan Versluys, emeritus professor of American literature and culture (UGent). “Actually, there is little a president can do about that. But at the end of the day it will be his responsibility.”
Gaza divides the Democratic party
Just as the war in Ukraine is creating additional uncertainty, unconditional American support for Israel is also gradually starting to affect Biden. “The left wing of the Democratic party, with young and progressive voters, is gradually turning away,” says Kerremans.
A poll from the Arab American Institute (AAI) this weekend showed that Biden’s support among Americans with an Arab background fell from 59 percent in 2020 to 17 percent. The question now is: does the Jewish support compensate for that? Traditionally they are loyal to the Democratic party.
Dark horse Robert Kennedy
Traditionally, independent candidates are politically irrelevant in the United States. This time they may be able to play a role in the election results. “According to a recent poll, Robert Kennedy, nephew of former American president John F. Kennedy, could run with a fifth of the votes in some states,” says Kerremans. “It was initially thought that Kennedy, an anti-vaxer, would steal more votes from Trump. However, his profile is gradually turning out to be more politically diverse and the question is gradually becoming: can he not do more harm to Biden than expected?”
Kennedy will never become president. It is possible that independent candidates like him will play a sharp hand because part of the population does not agree with either candidate. This may be the case, for example, in the so-called battleground states. These are states that vote red in one election, blue in the next. Biden is now said to be lagging behind in five of those six states.
The polarization in American politics and society
“A daily subject of amazement,” is how Versluys describes Trump’s gift of presenting himself as a victim in the many lawsuits against him. This makes his appearances in court almost seem like campaign events.
“Trump is a brilliant demagogue: he has found a way to capture the dissatisfaction of many Americans,” says Versluys. “That dissatisfaction exists in various areas. Economic inequality has grown enormously. Some white Americans cannot cope with the fact that in a few years they will no longer be the majority in the country. Finally, all conservative Christians must reconcile with increasing secularization.”
Biden himself sees no reason to be defeatist for the time being. In the White House they are happy to point out that in polls this time last year the Democratic party appeared to be heading for a loss to the midterm elections, to ultimately do much better than expected. Democrats hope that when push comes to shove, voters will not give their vote to Trump – and the almost certain chaos that will follow. “In fact, the real campaign has yet to start, especially for Biden,” says Kerremans. “So I don’t see any reason why Biden shouldn’t be optimistic – just as I don’t see any reason for Trump.”