Election Politics and Economics

Biden’s Political Possibilities and Predicaments

As President Biden and Donald Trump appear slated for a rematch this November, voters must decide which of these two men deserves a second term.

Indeed, many voters are not looking forward to a repeat of the stress and volatility that the last general election cycle produced. Vice President of the Wheaton College Democrats Payton Molleur shares these beliefs.

“I think that it’s going to be very upsetting. Unless Donald Trump gets put in prison, he is probably going to get the Republican nomination and all that that comes with, and I’m not personally clamoring for a rematch between those two just four years on where they’re both clearly experiencing a greater degree of cognitive decline than they were four years ago, and where Biden already has four years of being president behind him and he’s trying to get re-elected on an okay-ish record whereas Trump is just going to be an extremist,” said Molleur.

That sums up what a lot of voters, especially young voters, are feeling about politics right now. For those inclined to support Biden, some headlines have produced concern. Polling conducted by NBC News in early February found that Trump led Biden by twenty percentage points over who is best for the economy.

Yet Wheaton College Associate Professor of Political Science Brad Bishop explains that the economy is a more expansive issue than it may appear.

“During President Biden’s term, there have been some positive economic indicators and some that are negative. The positive ones are that the country’s unemployment rate is very low, corporate profits are positive, and equities in stock markets have done very well during his presidency. On the other hand, largely due to COVID and the subsequent response from the federal government and state governments as well, there has been very high inflation,” said Bishop.

While voters might view these facts as evidence confirming their beliefs about Biden’s handling of the economy, the public’s perception of this issue might matter more than what either candidate could do in office.

 “You can make a very strong case that President Biden has nothing at all to do with whether inflation is good or bad, but there is no question that the public expects the economy to be good and when it’s not, the president is judged as being responsible,” said Bishop.

Molleur, who wanted Senator Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination in 2020, has mixed feelings on President Biden’s record.

“I am less disappointed with Biden as president than I was expecting to be, mostly because he has an industrial policy and policies to create infrastructure. I am generally kind of disappointed with his more conciliatory stances. Democrats seem to always fall into a similar pattern of trying to be more centrist in order to appeal to a larger bloc, but it hasn’t appealed to me personally,” said Molleur.

Molleur puts immigration and climate change at the top of the list for what he views as Biden’s shortcomings.

“I think he’s kind of dropped the ball [in] that initially he came in talking about stopping pipelines and promoting green industry and while he’s to a certain degree supported green industry with the Inflation Reduction Act in particular, he’s also just allowed for pipelines to be built,” said Molleur. “Another area where I feel like he’s dropped the ball is the border [with] wholesale co-optation of Trump era deportation policies.”

On the other hand, Molleur credits Biden with his handling of international matters, especially in light of how such relations were strained under the previous administration.

“I think that one thing that really paid off very quickly was rebuilding relationships with the international community after the Trump administration, particularly by the time Russia invaded Ukraine. I feel like he did very well from the outset and has continued to do a fairly good job at cultivating support from the international community,” said Molleur.

Young voters, such as Molleur, have been highlighted as a group that might feel disillusioned with Biden. Some on the left are concerned that they will not turn out in the numbers they did four years ago.

“I don’t want to say that it won’t matter at all if there’s low levels of enthusiasm for Joe BIden among young people. But I will say that young people turn out at the lowest rate in any cohort of American elections,” said Bishop. “How people are thinking about Joe Biden now before a significant presidential campaign has really taken off is different from how they’re going to feel later on. One of the things campaigns accomplish is that it clarifies the difference between the candidates. After they’ve been exposed to the campaign, they’re going to see many more differences between the two. The clarification of the choice that’s available will cause young voters, both those who support Trump and those who support Biden, to see there’s a lot at stake in the election,” said Bishop.

Yet some have raised concerns that the Biden campaign might be trying to garner support for his re-election by defining himself as the alternative to Trump instead of discussing what he stands for on his own.

“I think running on a general ‘I’m not Trump’ message is not effective. It’s not exciting anyone, and it’s not a good message to generate a high degree of turnout. It’s just telling people what you’re against rather than providing any tangible, exciting alternative,” said Molleur.

Bishop hopes that voters take a substantive look at the choice before them and remain above the fray.

“The election is going to get very contentious, and for most people, talking about and arguing about politics is not a fun experience. I would urge people when they start learning more about the election and what the candidates stand for is to decide what they think, but also to understand what the other side’s arguments are, not the superficial points that the most extreme people on the other side are making, not that viral tweet that everyone is dunking on, but try to really understand the logic and the rationale that people who disagree with you take on a lot of the important policy controversies. By understanding what the other side is arguing, a presidential election can really enrich your understanding of the political world and can make for a more productive exchange of views that will result in an election that people consider to be legitimate,” said Bishop.