What good did the 2022 election do for Biden 2024?

Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman
President Joe Biden arrives for the Thanksgiving turkey pardoning ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 21, 2022.

By almost any measure, Joe Biden registered one of the most successful midterm elections for a U.S. president in recent history – and possibly the best of any since 1962 or even 1934.

While Democrats narrowly lost the House, they actually gained ground in governor’s mansions and state legislatures, and they could even gain a Senate seat if they win in the Georgia runoff next week. The president’s party hasn’t gained ground in both governor’s and Senate races in 88 years.

All of which has ostensibly restored some confidence among twitchy Democratic officials when it comes to Biden’s stewardship of the country and his 2024 prospects. Before the election, some big-name Democrats were openly suggesting it was time to move on in two years. But as the thrust of the results was becoming clear, a series of them emphasized Biden had earned their 2024 support, and even some critics have come around, as the New York Times reported Monday.

As for whether Democratic voters have seen their concerns allayed? Thus far that appears to be another matter.

We’ve seen relatively little in the way of quality national polling in recent weeks. But much of it suggests the situation is about what it was before the election. Biden’s approval rating is virtually unchanged, with his disapproval number double-digits higher than his approval. And while there might be a slight uptick in those who think Biden should run again or could win, the data is mixed and hardly conclusive.

Perhaps the poll that’s friendliest to Biden on this front is from YouGov and the Economist. In August and late October, it showed 38 percent and 39 percent of Democrats wanted Biden to run again, respectively. But in the most recent poll, from a week ago, that number had risen to 47 percent.

Other polling confirms Biden is no longer at his low point on this measure, but it also suggests the 2022 election results weren’t necessarily the reason.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed just 25 percent of Americans said Biden should run for president again in 2024. That number has hovered right around 25 percent since this summer. It was higher among Democrats – 51 percent – and that’s up from 40 percent in July. But it’s little changed from the 47 percent of Democrats who said Biden should run again in August.

The last poll we’ll focus on is from NPR, PBS and Marist College. And this one actually suggests Biden might be in a slightly worse position when it comes to his side’s 2024 desires.

It asked a somewhat different question – not whether Biden should run again, but whether people think the party has a better chance with him or with “someone else.” In mid-October, Democrats were split between Biden and the hypothetical alternative, 41-41, and that split is very similar today, 44-46.

But despite the 2022 election results, the poll shows Democratic-leaning independents are actually more bullish on a nominee not named Biden now. They’ve gone from 51-26 in favor of that “someone else” to 71-23. So overall, Democratic-leaning voters have moved from 44-36 in favor of “someone else” to 54-38.

We’re digging into cross tabs for all of these numbers, and the margins of error are even larger when you’re isolating something like “Democratic-leaning independents.” It’s also true that Biden appears better off on these measures than he once was, and especially relative to the summer.

But we’re still dealing with a situation in which half of Democrats, at most, want a president of their own party to run again, which is very unusual. And more voters who will select the party’s 2024 nominee think someone else would do better, even if that number hasn’t necessarily risen, as the Marist poll suggests it has.

It’s worth asking just how much people view the election as an affirmation of Biden versus a repudiation of certain elements in the Republican Party. Democrats did as well as they did, after all, not because voters liked Biden, but because those who disapproved of him only “somewhat” still tilted toward the blue side – rather remarkably. Perhaps Biden gets credit for not turning himself into a lightning rod that took his party off the table for those voters, or perhaps he benefited from a choice election in which the alternative allowed itself to be the issue.

If Biden can lock down nearly half of Democratic voters, he’d still be the odds-on favorite to be the 2024 nominee. And the midterm results could dissuade would-be usurpers who might reason that there’s a premium on unity at a time in which Republicans are shooting themselves in the feet. But these still aren’t the kinds of numbers that foreclose a contested or competitive primary, nor do they suggest that Democratic voters’ confidence in the 80-year-old president’s performance and electoral fortitude has suddenly been restored to its early-2021 levels.