President Biden is expected to use his State of the Union address as a launching pad for a likely reelection announcement in the coming weeks, but a batch of new polls show he still has work to do to convince voters that he deserves a second term.
Biden is likely to use Tuesday’s prime-time speech to argue the economy and Americans’ day-to-day lives are better than when he took office. The president will then hit the road to tout his achievements as his plans to run for reelection appear to be full steam ahead.
But there are signs that even a productive past year that featured major investments in the economy and declining concerns about a recession may not be enough for Biden to excite even some in his own party about a 2024 bid.
“I think this is an impossible speech to give because it’s a speech that requires him to speak both about the state of the union as it is and the direction he hopes to lead it, which is about playing the role of statesman. But it also is going to lay the groundwork for most likely his own run for office in 2024, which will call for him to be decidedly political and to cover all kinds of ground,” said William Howell, a political scientist at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
Biden and his team believe they have a strong case to make to the American public that they can contrast with the chaotic early weeks of the House GOP majority. The White House especially wants to focus on the economy, which has seen some unprecedented turn around in recent weeks.
Biden plans to point to recent economic data that has shown record-setting job growth and the cost of goods falling, which, taken together, have economists optimistic that the U.S. will avoid a recession, something that was a major concern just a few months ago.
But Biden is going into his speech on the heels of a Washington Post-ABC News poll that showed 62 percent of Americans think the president accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing” in his first two years in office.
Four out of 10 of those polled indicated they are personally worse off financially since Biden became president, the most recorded in that survey in 37 years.
A Monmouth University poll released Monday found just 24 percent of Americans feel the country is headed in the right direction, down significantly from a high point of 41 percent in April 2021.
“I think the core message is we have to make more progress, but people should feel optimism that, because of what we have seen and because of the progress we have made, that we know how to keep making progress going forward,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told reporters Monday when asked about Americans who may not be feeling the benefits of Biden’s economic agenda.
Another poll released Monday found that only 37 percent of Democrats want Biden to seek another term, which is down from 52 percent ahead of the midterm elections in November, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Poll respondents cited his age as an issue, which has been a consistent concern for voters and some Democratic Party officials. Biden was the oldest president at the time he was sworn in, and he would be 82 at the start of a second term.
Then there is the Chinese surveillance balloon that traversed a swath of the U.S. last week, which posed an unexpected challenge for the president just days before his address to Congress.
The president has also been dogged by his handling of classified documents after sensitive materials from his time as vice president were found at his Delaware home and a Washington, D.C., office he used from 2017 to 2019.
Additionally, Biden is taking jabs for the one thing that the White House is confident it can take a victory lap on: the economy. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a moderate Republican, on Sunday said that Biden will try to take credit for the economy in his State of the Union speech but argued the achievements of the administration are not impressive.
There are other accomplishments Biden may also pepper his big speech with. The president will likely point to the passage of a bill to fund semiconductor chip manufacturing domestically and of the Inflation Reduction Act, which funds green technology and caps health care costs.
Biden also supported a bipartisan bill to curb gun violence, a measure to codify same-sex marriage and a bill to add benefits to protect veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. And lately, the president has been traveling to tout projects funded by the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.
Tuesday will give Biden a major opportunity to dispel concerns about his ability to lead the country and to educate the public on what he’s actually done while in office, both of which will be key to boost momentum going into an eventual campaign announcement.
“When you’re sitting in the White House and you’re a year out from national elections, you understand that there’s no way this speech will be covered as anything other than an opening bid and argument for reelection,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Center for American Progress.
The White House believes it can draw a contrast between its own record and that of the relatively young House GOP majority, which thus far has announced plans to investigate Biden’s son Hunter Biden as well as the president’s handling of classified documents and his finances.
White House officials have been quick to pounce on Republican proposals to enact a national sales tax, something even Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) doesn’t support, as well as talk of reforming or cutting Social Security and Medicare, two popular government programs that benefit millions of seniors, a key voting bloc.
After Tuesday’s speech, Biden will head to Wisconsin to discuss his economic plan and Florida to talk about protecting Social Security and Medicare. Other administration officials will scatter around the country to highlight the Biden agenda this week, as well.
Democratic officials said after the State of the Union is when discussions will likely intensify about staffing and infrastructure for a Biden reelection bid. But Tuesday will give the president a chance to make the case to Americans that they’re better off than they were when he took office, a message that would likely be the backbone of his 2024 pitch, even if it doesn’t seem to have resonated with the public just yet, according to the recent polls.
“I think Joe Biden has been one of the most underrated leaders I have ever seen in my life,” said Tom Perez, former Democratic National Committee chairman and co-chair of American Bridge.