Source: UMass News and Media
While the 80-year-old president sees a net 10-point positive swing in approval since May and remains the Democrats’ front-runner for 2024, six in 10 respondents support setting an age limit for presidents
As President Joe Biden’s job approval rating continues to climb and he remains far and away Democrats’ preferred candidate for 2024, the latest national University of Massachusetts Amherst Poll has found that six in 10 respondents support setting an upper age limit for presidents.
The poll of 1,000 respondents conducted January 5-9 found Biden’s net job approval rating now stands at 44-51 as he approaches his second anniversary in office, up from 38-55 last May and 40-52 this past October.
“In the aftermath of a better-than-expected performance by the Democratic Party in the 2022 midterm, historically low levels of unemployment and a decrease in inflation rates, some speculated that this wave of positive political and economic news would lead to a dramatic increase in President Biden’s approval ratings,” says Tatishe Nteta, Provost Professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll. “While the president did enjoy a bump in approval, particularly among young people, independents, working-class Americans and college-educated Americans, a majority of the public still expresses negative views of the job that the president is doing. As President Biden contemplates a run for the White House in 2024, he and his supporters are hoping that the upswing in approval is but a harbinger of things to come.”
While Biden’s overall ratings on his handling of economic issues also increased, they still lag well behind his overall approval numbers.
“For those who wonder why President Biden’s approval ratings are still under water, look no further than the public’s assessments of his handling of the economy, taxes and inflation,” Nteta says. “Large swaths of the public remain skeptical of Biden’s leadership of the American economy as majorities of Americans believe that Biden has handled the economy (51%) and taxes (52%) poorly and a plurality (48%) assess Biden’s work on inflation in a negative light. If Biden is to ward off criticism and challenges from both within his party as well as from Republicans, he will need to continue to work to right the nation’s economic ship or he may find himself on the list of one-term presidents.”
However, Raymond La Raja, Professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst and co-director of the poll, says Biden should be encouraged by the responses of the poll’s youngest respondents.
“Young people have opened a new page on Biden,” La Raja says. “In less than two years, support for the president from those 18-29 years old has gone way up – 54% of young people approve of him compared to just 32% a year and half ago. No other group has changed this much. Perhaps it is the efforts to fix college loans or that the job market feels good for them, but whatever he’s doing they appear to like it.”
La Raja also points to how the poll’s respondents replied regarding whether the president has met the
expectation they had for him when he assumed the nation’s highest office two years ago.
“Unrealistic expectations about what presidents can do tends to create disappointed voters a few years into a presidency,” he says, “so not surprisingly we see many voters saying Biden has fallen short of expectations. However, these hard numbers are softening somewhat. Over a year ago 55% said Biden had fallen short of expectations, but that figure has dipped to 48% as a majority (52%) now say that he has met or exceeded their expectations. The reality of partisan polarization means that few Republicans will give him positive reviews while Democrats will never completely abandon him.”
“Since taking office, President Biden has led the charge in vaccinating millions of Americans against COVID-19, passed the largest infrastructure bill since the New Deal, sought to forgive millions in student loan debt, and increased funding for health care and climate protection,” Nteta says. “For some, the first two years of Biden’s presidency will be remembered as among the most successful in the nation’s history. However, in the face of these many accomplishments, close to half of the public (49%) believes that it would be better for the nation if Biden did not seek reelection in 2024 and this is particularly and unsurprisingly pronounced among Republicans. In an era of rife partisan polarization, it is likely that there is nothing that Biden could have done in his first two years that would change Republican views of his presidency and his impact on the nation’s well-being.”
Regardless of his current approval ratings, Biden clearly remains the preferred candidate among Democrats for 2024 with 31% of the poll’s respondents naming him as their first choice when given the option to rank their top three preferences. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders remains the president’s closest competition, with 14% support, while Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg follows with 11% support. Vice President Kamala Harris is the preferred candidate for just 8% of the 442 Democrats surveyed.
“The 2024 field of potential Democratic presidential candidates is a story of stability,” Nteta says. “With the field of Republican presidential candidates beginning to take shape and the president promising that he will announce whether he will seek a second term in office, Biden remains far and away the first preference of Democrats in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary. The 2024 nomination is Biden’s to lose, but if he decides against seeking a second term, then his vice president, Kamala Harris, is poised to face a hotly contested race for the party’s nomination.”
An Age Limit for Presidents?
For the first time, the UMass Amherst Poll also asked respondents whether they would support a constitutional amendment to set an upper age limit on the presidency, and if so, what that age should be.
“A strong majority – 59% – favors inserting a clause in the Constitution adding a maximum age limit for the presidency on top of the minimum age requirement of 35,” La Raja says. “On average voters peg this age at 67. That means that Ronald Reagan, who was 69 when he became president would have been disqualified from running for office if Americans got this change.”
“Americans seem to be growing impatient with the prevalence of elderly Americans at the highest levels of power in government,” says Jesse Rhodes, Professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst and co-director of the poll. “Lest this be disregarded simply as blatant ageism, fully 59% of those age 55 and older support a maximum age limit for service in the presidency, with an average proposed age limit of roughly 70 years. Younger Americans – who came of political age under the leadership of two septuagenarian presidents – are particularly supportive of a maximum age limit for the presidency, advocating a maximum age limit of roughly 63 years.
“The enthusiasm of a strong majority of Americans – and particularly younger Americans – for a maximum age limit for service in the presidency likely reflects two major factors,” Rhodes continues. “First, many Americans have likely been underwhelmed by the performance in office of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, both septuagenarians. And second, many Americans, particularly younger Americans, likely perceive the tenure in office of older Americans as emblematic of a politics dominated by generations that are less attentive to the concerns that matter to them most. Although generational warfare is probably too strong a word, there are definitely tensions between older and younger generations of Americans, who often have different political interests and priorities.”
“Does the future still belong to the young?,” Nteta asks. “As the nation girds itself for a potential rematch of the 80-year-old President Joe Biden against the 77-year-old former President Donald Trump, a majority of Americans on both sides of the partisan, racial, ideological, gender, class, and generational divide are pushing back against the presence of older candidates for the nation’s most powerful elected position. For a nation marred by division and disagreement, on the question of whether we want an older president, there is much less conflict and more consensus – and the resounding answer is no. Whether representatives in the nation’s state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress will do anything about this growing sentiment in the public and seek to make a change to the nation’s founding document remains to be seen.”
Americans’ Views On Issues
The latest poll once again asked respondents about their views on assorted proposed state and federal laws related to issues such as gun control, abortion, campaign finance, education and gender identity.
“The abortion issue is clearly polarizing for many voters, but there are a lot of ‘undecideds’ in the middle grappling with what the policy should be,” La Raja says. “To take one example, when asked whether states should prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, 36% of voters support such a policy (21% strongly) and 41% oppose it (31% strongly). However, close to one in four voters don’t pick a position for or against it.”
Turning to the issue of gun control, La Raja notes the relative stability of respondents’ views on various proposals tackling gun regulation.
“People’s positions on gun control haven’t budged much in the past year, although there is a small uptick in wanting stronger gun laws, particularly on selling of assault weapons,” he says. “Our latest poll finds that 56% of Americans support banning the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, compared to 25% who oppose such a ban. The problem for those who want more gun control is that it is not the main issue that makes them choose politicians, while for those who oppose controls it often is the issue and politicians in our American system pay more attention to an issue position that comes from an intense minority of voters who really care about it.”
“Our poll finds that a majority of Americans correctly perceives that there are more gun deaths in the United States than in most advanced countries and expresses concern that they or family members may become victims of gun violence,” Rhodes says. “In addition to the strong majority that supports the banning of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a huge majority of Americans (82%) supports background checks for all gun sales. The firm conclusion is support for gun control is a strong majority position. The absence of serious gun control measures points to the political power of the gun lobby and the minority of Americans with very strong anti-gun control views.”
However, La Raja, author of the 2015 book “Campaign Finance and Political Polarization: When Purists Prevail,” does see an opening for possible bipartisan legislation to help clarify campaign financing.
“Few Americans are happy with the campaign finance system, and many appear to dislike that so much money is hard to trace,” he says. “Supermajorities want more transparency of money in politics – 70% of our respondents say that we should require people and groups spending money on political campaigns to disclose the original source of the money, while just 8% oppose such requirements.”
“Democrats and Republicans don’t see eye-to-eye on much in our latest poll,” concludes Alexander Theodoridis, Associate Professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst and co-director of the poll. “There are massive partisan differences on approval of the job Joe Biden is doing and on issues like abortion and gun control. But, there are some points of agreement – respondents from both parties support state laws requiring disclosure of sources for ‘dark money’ campaign contributions and funding for childcare and early childhood education for those who can’t afford it. And, both Democrats and Republicans support amending the United States Constitution to impose a maximum age for POTUS.”
The margin of error within this poll is 3.55%.
Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at www.umass.edu/poll