9 min read

Biden’s biggest weak spots

The White House has identified Biden’s two key vulnerabilities heading into 2024: his age and the economy. Here’s what the president is doing to address them.
Biden’s biggest weak spots
(Photo by the White House)

Good morning! It’s Thursday, June 29, 2023. The 2024 elections are 495 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

2024 general election polls are starting to come out, and their findings are pretty much all over the place.

This week alone, there’s been a poll showing Biden up by four points nationally (NBC News) and a poll showing Trump ahead by the same amount (Economist/YouGov). Then, a survey came out yesterday showing Biden with a 9-point lead in Wisconsin (Marquette); it was followed quickly by one that gave Trump a 1-point edge in Pennsylvania, another must-win battleground (Quinnipiac).

The national average shows the race pretty much tied (Trump +0.6, per RealClearPolitics), which shouldn’t be surprising considering the last two presidential elections were decided by the slimmest of amounts.

So it’s probably too early to take anything away from the polls you might have started seeing in your social media feeds — except for a reminder that we live in a 50-50 country, the race will most likely be a close one, etc.

According to research by SplitTicket, surveys this early are never very predictive: since 2004, presidential polls taken in the June before an election year have been off by an average of about 8 percentage points. (Yes, the polls do become more accurate over time: by Election Day, the average polling error is down below 3 points.)

(Graph by SplitTicket)

Still, even if you can safely ignore the head-to-heads, it’s never too early to consider how the leading candidates are being viewed by voters. After all, public perceptions of candidates often harden quickly; once they do, they can be very hard to change.

To that end, I wrote a few months back about some of the challenges Donald Trump and the Republican Party face heading into 2024. Now, it’s time to do the same for Joe Biden.

This is an especially opportune time to consider Biden’s vulnerabilities, because there are fresh signs this week that the White House has recognized what are arguably the president’s two biggest weak spots — opinions on his age and the economy — and is trying to address them:

* Biden delivered a major address on Wednesday aimed at selling voters on his economic vision, which the White House has lately leaned into calling “Bidenomics.” The president spent the Chicago speech reeling off statistics that point to economic improvement. “It’s working,” he asserted, referring to his buffet of government investments.

* The president is increasingly making light of his age, reportedly as part of an effort to neutralize the issue heading into 2024. As NBC News notes, Biden has peppered jokes about his age into nearly every speech he’s given in the past two weeks, alternately calling himself “103,” “110,” and “198 years old” to try to laugh off his octogenarian status.

How much ground does Biden have to make up in these two areas? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

* The economy consistently ranks as the most important issue for the electorate: in a recent Quinnipiac poll, for example, 30% of voters said it was the issue most important to their vote. Only one other issue (preserving American democracy, at 27%) even rated double-digits. And yet, it is also the issue where voter disapproval of Biden is often highest: in a CBS News poll this month, just 36% of Americans expressed approval of how Biden’s handling of the economy, while 64% disapproved. Two-thirds of voters described the economy as “fairly” or “very bad.”

* Biden’s age (80, older than any other president in U.S. history) is another glaring warning sign that pops up in almost every survey. An NBC News poll this week found that 68% of voters have concerns about Biden having the “necessary mental and physical health to be president.” In a Washington Post/ABC News poll last month, the exact same percentage said point-blank that Biden was too old for another term in office.

On the brighter side for Biden, just as he began his “Bidenomics” push, one indicator emerged to suggest that American views on the economy are beginning to grow rosier.

The Conference Board, a business research group, released the latest iteration of its closely watched Consumer Confidence Index on Monday, and found that Americans feel better about the nation’s economy than at any point in the last 18 months. Consumer confidence jumped from 102.5 on the index in May to 109.7 in June, its highest level since January 2022.  

In the same report, consumer expectations on inflation — the most commonly criticized element of Biden’s economy — were the best they’ve been since December 2020.

But this more optimistic outlook, if it holds, is arriving months after the economy first began showing signs of improvement. The unemployment rate — which is at near-historic lows — has been under 4% since 2022 began. Inflation has been dropping for 11 straight months, and is now the lowest it’s been in more than two years. (Inflation still remains above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target; although the Fed paused its interest rate increases this month, they are expected to resume soon, which could still plunge the U.S. into a recession in service of taming inflation.)

That lag between economic indicators improving and American opinions on the economy inching up (and they still remain fairly low) underline the point I mentioned earlier: once voter perceptions harden, they’re very hard to turn around.

Take Biden’s overall approval rating, which started above-water but turned south in August 2021, as inflation worsened and the U.S. chaotically withdrew from Afghanistan. Not only has the rating not reversed itself since then, it’s barely budged: in the past year, the measure has gone up all of 0.9 percentage points, remaining remarkably stable.

(Graph by FiveThirtyEight)

Biden should keep that lesson about delayed effects in mind as he considers just how urgently he needs to begin calming nerves about his other major weakness.

Because just before Biden traveled to Chicago to work on his vulnerability around the economy, he handed voters a fresh reason to worry about his age.

“To what extent has Vladimir Putin been weakened by recent events?” a reporter asked Biden as he prepared for his departure.

“It’s hard to tell, but he’s clearly losing the war in Iraq,” the president responded. (Amid the flub, reporters also noticed mysterious lines on Biden’s face. The White House later acknowledged that the president has recently been using a CPAP machine to help with sleep apnea.)

It wasn’t the first time Biden has mixed up the war in Iraq (which ended more than a decade ago) with the war in Ukraine (which has been a central issue of his presidency). In fact, it wasn’t even the first time this week: at a campaign fundraiser on Tuesday night, Biden made the same mistake. At the fundraiser, he also referred to his “new best friend,” the prime minister of “China,” before catching himself and saying “India.”

Partially due to more frequent “senior moments” like these, concerns about Biden’s age and mental acuity are only growing, threatening to harden for the long-haul just like concerns about the economy did.

The 68% of voters who told NBC pollsters they were worried about Biden’s mental and physical health? That’s up significantly from October 2020, when only 51% of voters said they had the same concerns.

The effect has been bipartisan: after 2+ years of watching him in the Oval Office, the percentage of Democrats concerned about Biden’s health has nearly doubled, from 21% in 2020 to 43% now.

Biden is clearly aware of the concerns, as he takes advice from Hollywood’s Jeffrey Katzenberg to try turning his age into a punchline. According to polls, though, Biden has yet to convince many Americans that the issue is a laughing matter.  


The GOP has seen a series of legal losses over LGBT-related laws. (Ted Eytan) 

Federal judges in Kentucky and Tennessee temporarily blocked restrictions on gender-affirming care in both states on Wednesday. The pair of rulings are only the latest GOP-led laws targeting transgender health care to run into legal trouble.

Texas recorded nine heat-related deaths last week as temperatures soared throughout the South, at the same time as thick smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed the Great Lakes region. “Heat waves occur naturally, as do fires, but climate change makes the heat waves more intense and the fires more intense,” one expert told the Washington Post.

Speaking of President Biden’s vulnerabilities, here’s a third one: his son Hunter. Biden responded for the first time Wednesday to an IRS whistleblower’s allegation that Hunter invoked his father in a text message pressuring a Chinese business partner. “No, I wasn’t,” Biden insisted, when asked if he was present when the message was sent, as Hunter claimed. Even some Democrats were miffed last week when Hunter showed up at a White House state dinner just days after being indicted. Per NBC News, Biden has told his aides that he will not limit his son’s visibility for political gain.

Two ethics questions were raised about Ron DeSantis on Wednesday. The Daily Beast reported that he used a Texas government helicopter during a campaign visit to the state, a potential campaign finance violation. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that DeSantis’ administration steered $92 million in Covid relief funds to a “controversial highway interchange project that directly benefits a top political donor.”

Remember the Chinese surveillance balloon from earlier this year? It apparently used American-made equipment to spy on Americans, taking photos and videos as it floated over the U.S. Those findings come from a preliminary analysis of its debris conducted by U.S. intelligence agencies and first reported by the Wall Street Journal.


President Biden sitting for a TV interview earlier this year. (White House)

All times Eastern.

President Biden will travel to New York City, where he will sit down for a live interview with Nicolle Wallace of MSNBC and headline two campaign fundraisers. The MSNBC spot may be another attempt to diffuse concerns about Biden’s age, as he rarely sits for interviews — especially live ones — even if the interviewer in this case is a sympathetic one.

Vice President Harris will travel to New Orleans, where she will speak at the ESSENCE Festival of Culture and headline a campaign fundraiser.

The Senate is on recess until July 10.

The House is on recess until July 11.

The Supreme Court will release opinions, possibly including decisions in high-profile cases on affirmative action, student loan debt, and LGBT rights. Go to this page shortly after 10 a.m. to read the opinions as they drop.

On the campaign trail, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will join Biden on the New York City fundraising circuit, attending a donor event at Manhattan’s exclusive Yale Club hosted by four Wall Street executives.


bright points of light spread out throughout space emit a grid-like pattern
(Artist’s rendering by NANOGrav Collaboration)

Here’s something interesting: “Astronomers have heard the faint hum of gravitational waves echoing throughout the universe for the first time,” according to Space.com.

“For nearly a decade, scientists have been hunting for the gravitational wave background, a faint but persistent echo of gravitational waves thought to have been set off by events that took place soon after the Big Bang and the mergers of supermassive black holes throughout the cosmos.” A collective of worldwide scientists finally announced on Wednesday that they had observed it.

The discovery confirms a central prediction by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. As the Washington Post puts it: “In Einstein’s reimagined universe, space is not serenely empty, and time does not march smoothly forward. Instead, the powerful gravitational interactions of massive objects — including supermassive black holes — regularly ripple the fabric of space and time. The picture that emerges is a universe that looks like a choppy sea, churned by violent events that happened over the course of the past 13 billion-plus years.”

“What we measure is the Earth kind of moving in this sea,” astrophysicist Michael Lam told the Post. “It’s bobbing around — and it’s not just bobbing up and down, its bobbing in all directions.”

Thanks for reading.

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