Voters sent a variety of mixed signals in the 2022 midterm elections, but one thing came through quite clearly: they don’t want President Joe Biden to run for a second term.
According to national exit polling, 67% of midterm voters don’t want Biden to run for president in 2024, compared to 30% who want him to run. The current numbers show that, unsurprisingly, 90% of self-identified Republicans who voted in the midterm don’t want to see Biden run again, but 38% of self-identified Democrats also don’t want to see him run again.
Those numbers are consistent with polling conducted in the run-up to this year’s election. In a Marquette Law School poll from September, 72% of Americans said they didn’t want Biden to run for reelection. Democrats in that poll were sharply divided on the question: 52% said he should run again while 48% said he shouldn’t.
Biden was asked about those sobering exit poll numbers during a post-election press conference on Wednesday. He said that the number of people who don’t want him to run will not impact his decision. To those with doubts, Biden offered only this: “Watch me.”
Which is a fine line for a press conference. And similar to one Biden has used before when asked about his capacity to continue to serve.
But “watch me” alone isn’t going to assuage voters’ doubts, which primarily center on Biden’s age. After all, after spending nearly two years watching Biden in office, two-thirds of voters don’t think he should run again. So there’s that.
Biden will turn 80 in nine days’ time and will be 82 years old shortly after the 2024 election. That would make him 86 years old at the end of a hypothetical second term. By comparison, Ronald Reagan was 77 years old when he left office in 1989.
Some of the doubts about Biden may be assuaged by Democrats’ surprisingly strong performance in the midterm elections. As of early Friday afternoon, Democrats still have a slim chance of keeping their House majority and a much better chance of holding onto their Senate majority.
Had the election been the red wave that many political handicappers were predicting, it’s very likely that concerns over Biden’s age and strength as a candidate would have grown much, much more public. He’s spared that – for now.
But Republicans have zeroed in on Biden’s regular verbal gaffes to make the case that he isn’t up to the task of running the country. That drumbeat will only grow louder if and when he decides to run for another term.
Doubts about Biden and his ability to serve a second term are a persistent problem, not a one-off from the exit polling. And one that Biden and his team need to figure out how to address – beyond just telling voters to watch him.