Only 13 Percent of Americans Say The Country is on the Right Track — And They’re Blaming Biden

Joe Biden won election in 2020 on a promise to restore a sense of normalcy to a country that had been led very far off track after four years of Donald Trump. But a year and a half into his presidency, he’s not only struggled to fix what his predecessor broke —he has seemed helpless, at times, to keep the radical Republican party from breaking it further. Not all of that is his fault, of course: The extremist Supreme Court was already in place when he took office, and the filibuster has trapped much of his once-ambitious agenda in legislative limbo. But the president also seems reluctant to acknowledge how bad things are getting, insisting — as he did on an Independence Day marred by mass shootings — that “our best days still lie ahead.”

The line, which he’s delivered several times in his presidency, has always come off as a little bit overly optimistic. Now, though, the mantra can sound downright delusional: How can we answer Biden’s call for America to “win the future” when we seem to be sinking deeper and deeper into some of the ugliest parts of our past?

That disconnect, between the bright future Biden says we’re incrementally progressing toward and the dark history we appear to be regressing into, may be driving significant dissatisfaction among Democrats. Biden had already been suffering sagging approval ratings, but a New York Times/Siena College poll out Monday may be the most sobering yet, underscoring the extent to which he’s losing confidence among those in his own party: Only 33 percent of Americans in the poll say they approve of his job performance; just 13 percent say the country is on the right track; and while 70 percent of Democrats approved of his performance, almost as many also said they want someone new leading the party in 2024.

The upside: Even with those abysmal numbers, the poll still shows Biden leading Trump in a hypothetical rematch two years from now. Voters may see Biden as overwhelmed in the face of the multiple crises facing the country, but more may still prefer that to Trump’s circus of chaos, conspiracy, and corruption. The downside: A perception is setting in among Democrats that Biden is not meeting the moment, and the president hasn’t always done as much as he could to dispel the notion.

“I understand that they’ve got a tough job,” one voter told the Times. “He wasn’t prepared to do the job.”

Many of the administration’s failures have been less about Biden than the broken political system itself. But in his reluctance to call those systemic failures what they are, he has left the door open for critics to assign the blame to him. Biden has come to embrace some changes — including to the Senate filibuster, which he supports amending to pass legislation protecting voting rights and abortion access. He remains uncomfortable, however, with broader institutional change, holding out hope that they can begin to function once again as they did during his glory days in the Senate.

That seems to put him out of step with much of his party, which has begun casting about for a standard-bearer who can at least project a little more urgency than Biden has. “We absolutely need to be stronger and louder in our condemnation of the right wing and what they stand for, and in our defense of the liberties of women and those who are marginalized,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who has been the subject of potential 2024 buzz, told CNN. “There is a palpable change in attitude among Democrats.”

That yearning for a bygone Washington also reinforces concerns about Biden’s age. At 79, the president remains in impressive health and intellectually engaged — despite frequent bad faith attacks from the right, which is trying to hold up Trump as a dynamic alternative to the “feeble” Biden. But his age could be a legitimate issue should he run for a second term, as he has said he will: If elected in 2024, he would be 86 by the time his second term wraps up. “I do feel it’s inappropriate to seek that office after you’re 80 or in your 80s,” David Gergen, a top adviser to four presidents, told the Times’ Peter Baker over the weekend. “I have just turned 80 and I have found over the last two or three years I think it would have been unwise for me to try to run any organization. You’re not quite as sharp as you once were.”

The realities of aging could obviously be a concern in 2024 — both for Biden and for the 76-year-old Trump, who could face his own challenges from younger demagogues like Ron DeSantis. But an even bigger issue than age for Biden, perhaps, is the age in which he’s governing — an era of eroded norms and hyper-polarization and a shattered shared reality that he cannot seem to glue back together. It’s unfair to expect that he would do that overnight — especially with the GOP blocking him on Capitol Hill and the right-wing media pumping its poison into the national discourse. But he has struggled so far to adapt to the political realities of 2022 — and unless that changes, Democrats are going to continue to grow disillusioned with his administration. As one 38-year-old voter put it to the Times: “I’m just going to come out and say it: I want younger blood…I am so tired of all old people running our country. I don’t want someone knocking on death’s door.”

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