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5 questions looming over President Biden at Thanksgiving

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President Biden doesn’t have a lot to be politically grateful for this Thanksgiving.

His approval rating is mired around 39 percent. Worries about his age unnerve Democratic voters, as well as their Republican counterparts. The conflict in the Middle East is causing him trouble with parts of the Democratic base.

But Biden has been underestimated many times during his political career — not least in 2020, when many people wrote off his chances of even becoming the Democratic nominee.

His allies argue that the same pattern is reasserting itself, and that Biden will once again prove the doubters wrong.

Here are five of the biggest questions looming over the president with less than a year left before he faces voters.

Can he find an answer to the age question?

Biden turned 81 Monday.

The event was marked in muted fashion at the White House — unsurprisingly, given the sensitivity of the topic.

Poll after poll shows the American public is deeply concerned about Biden’s ability to serve through a second term. He is already the oldest president in history. If he is reelected, he would be 86 when he left office.

A CNN/SSRS poll conducted in late October and early November found just 25 percent of Americans believe Biden has the “stamina and sharpness to serve effectively as president.”

Almost half of all Democrats — 48 percent — said that Biden did not have those qualities. Eighty percent of Americans aged 18-34 harbored the same doubt.

A month earlier, a Monmouth University poll found 76 percent of all voters and 56 percent of Democrats believed that Biden is too old to serve another term. 

The White House and other Biden allies have tried to cast his age as synonymous with experience and wisdom.

“Our perspective is that it’s not about age, it’s about the president’s experience,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said this week. “I would put the president’s stamina, the president’s wisdom, [his] ability to get this done on behalf of the American people, up against anyone on any day of the week.”

Much will hinge on whether enough Americans buy that argument over the next year.

Will the economy be an asset or a liability next year?

Biden’s low polling ratings on his economic stewardship are a huge warning sign in his quest for a second term.

In an NBC News poll released Sunday, 59 percent of registered voters disapproved of his performance on the economy, while only 38 percent approved.

Biden loyalists believe the president has not got enough credit for the brighter elements in his economic record, most notably job creation. 

The economy has created around 14 million jobs during his time in office, an enormous figure even factoring in the expected snapback after the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the most recent job figures came out earlier this month, Biden noted that the national unemployment rate had been lower than 4 percent “for 21 months in a row, the longest stretch in more than 50 years.” 

Unfortunately for the president, he has been weighed down by the economic distress caused by the surge in inflation during 2022. The inflation rate peaked at 9.1 percent in June last year — the highest rate since the early 1980s.

The Federal Reserve has wrestled the inflation rate down to just 3.2 percent, perhaps executing a “soft landing” that does not send the economy into recession.

Assuming that remains the case, voters could be feeling a good deal better about the economy a few months from now.

If they do, it would buoy Biden’s chances of reelection.

How much political damage has he suffered over Israel and the Palestinians?

Democratic voters are split virtually down the middle on the Middle East.

The president has been a staunch supporter of Israel all his life. He still tells the story of his awed meeting with then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the 1970s, when Biden was a young senator.

The president has given vigorous backing to Israel in its response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas that killed around 1,200 people.

But the response, first bombing and then invading Gaza, has killed around 12,000 people, displaced around 1.7 million and left around 200,000 without any homes to return to.

Younger Democratic voters are, broadly, far more sympathetic than Biden’s generation to the plight of the Palestinians.

The fault lines are evident in polling.

The NBC poll this past weekend saw Biden’s overall job approval with voters under 35 sink 15 points in just the past two months. A massive 70 percent within that age group disapprove of his handling of the current conflict.

The same poll also indicated 51 percent of Democrats believe Israel’s reprisals have “gone too far,” in contrast to just 27 percent who believe those actions are “justified.”

It’s possible memories of the conflict will fade long before Election Day. It also bears emphasizing that many Democrats are just as staunchly pro-Israel as Biden.

But there are worrying signs for the president among young voters, progressives and Black voters. There’s also the importance of Arab American voters in the swing state of Michigan to consider.

If those voters simply don’t show up next year, Biden will be in serious trouble. 

What effect will third-party candidates have on Biden’s reelection hopes?

The 2024 election will be unusual in at least one respect — the preponderance of alternative candidates.

Best known is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental campaigner and vaccine skeptic who has abandoned his pursuit of the Democratic nomination to mount an independent bid.

Academic and activist Cornel West will also run as an independent, having initially sought the Green Party’s nomination. Jill Stein, who was the Green Party nominee for president in 2012 and 2016, is seeking the nomination once again.

In addition, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is strongly hinting he might take the plunge as a candidate for the No Labels group. 

Manchin, who has announced he will not seek reelection to the Senate, says he is gauging whether it is possible to “mobilize the middle” in a polarized nation.

The ramifications of all of this are complicated. 

Kennedy is polling by far the best of any of the alternative candidates. But some of those surveys suggest that the scion of the famous family could take more votes from Trump than from Biden in a three-way race.

West and Stein, running from Biden’s left, would damage his chances of reelection. But West, with no party apparatus behind him, could struggle to get on the ballot.

Manchin’s changes are tricky to assess. 

No Labels has secured a spot on the ballot in roughly a dozen states. But does Manchin have a real constituency? He has long been seen as an irritant by many Democrats, while Republican voters seem unlikely to rush to back a lifelong Democrat.

Can he make Trump unelectable?

Democrats are deeply anxious about Biden’s chances next year. 

But some take a sliver of comfort from the idea that former President Trump may be unelectable in a general election.

The argument runs that voters don’t want the chaos Trump inevitably brings in his wake; that they will not forgive him for his behavior pertaining to Jan. 6, 2021; that they won’t elect a candidate who faces 91 criminal charges spread across four indictments; and that too many people simply loathe Trump for him to win.

They might be right — or not.

A series of recent polls from the New York Times and Siena College sent shockwaves through the Democratic Party when they showed Trump beating Biden in hypothetical match-ups in five of six battleground states. 

The NBC poll also found Trump beating Biden. 

Meanwhile, the most recent Economist/YouGov poll found the favorability ratings of Trump and Biden to be virtually identical.

The poll found 53 percent of adults held an unfavorable impression of each man. Trump drew approval from 43 percent and Biden from 44 percent.

Some Democrats believe that Trump will fare worse once he returns to center stage, and as voters really grapple with what a second Trump term would mean.

But right now, that’s an argument that comes without much supporting evidence.

Source: The Hill

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