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Democrats aren’t sold on Biden. What Vermont’s congressional delegation makes of the numbers

Joe Biden speaks at a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, on March 10.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
Joe Biden speaks at a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, on March 10.

According to a recent CNN poll, two-thirds of “Democratically” leaning voters say they don’t want the party to nominate President Joe Biden for a second term in office next year. Pollsters surveyed about 1,500 voters in late August.

Several other polls have also had similar findings.

What’s the message that people are sending?

Vermont Public’s Bob Kinzel had a chance to discuss this issue with the three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation and a couple political scientists before sitting down with host Jenn Jarecki to share his findings. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jenn Jarecki: Bob, let's start with Sen. Peter Welch. What did he have to say about Biden and the 2024 primary?

Bob Kinzel: Jenn, it was really interesting. The very first thing that Sen. Welch brought up was the concern that he thinks some voters have about President Biden's age. Now, Biden will turn 81 next month. Sen. Welch says it's an issue that definitely needs to be addressed by the White House in the coming months.

Sen. Peter Welch: Well, it tells me that age is a concern. That's reflected in the polls. And it's a situation that I think the president himself, and the Biden administration, is fully aware of so they have to demonstrate that that age concern that has been demonstrated — shown up in the polls — is one that they can handle.

Jenn Jarecki: You also had a chance to speak with Sen. Bernie Sanders about the lack of enthusiasm that many Democratic voters have for President Biden. What are his thoughts?

Bob Kinzel: Jenn, Sen. Sanders has a different reaction. He says he thinks the Biden administration has done a pretty good job on a number of important issues. But he thinks the White House has done a terrible job conveying these successes to the American people. And he says this really needs to change.

A woman and two men stand in a line
Lisa Rathke
Associated Press
Becca Balint, left, then a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, stands with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), center, and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), on Oct. 22, 2022, at a campaign rally in Barre. Balint was elected to the House, and Welch was elected to the Senate.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: You know, one of the problems with the Biden presidency, they have not done a particularly good job in explaining what they have done. Now, do I agree with everything they have done? No, I don't. Do I think they should have done more in a number of areas? Absolutely. You know, I did run against Biden for the presidency, so, I have disagreements with him. But I think he has done a better job than people understand that he has done.

Bob Kinzel: Jenn, several months ago, Sanders was encouraged to run for president next year by a number of progressive groups. But he said he had absolutely no interest in challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination, the way that he did back in 2020.

Jenn Jarecki: The third member of the delegation is, of course, Vermont's lone member in the U.S. House, Rep. Becca Balint. Bob, how does she view this situation?

Bob Kinzel: Rep. Balint also has her own interpretation of what these poll results mean. And her thoughts have more to do with the mindset of many voters. She says many people are struggling just to get by these days, that they're really turned off by the partisan nature of politics in this country, and as a result, they're not paying any attention to politics at this time. And she notes the 2024 presidential election is still more than a year away.

Rep. Becca Balint: Here's what I think, Bob. Of course, I see these numbers too. I think Americans are exhausted. They're exhausted from the pandemic, they are exhausted from the economic fallout, we got a workforce crisis, we have a mental health crisis. And I think generally they're turned off by politics.

Bob Kinzel: Rep. Balint also thinks that things will become much more clear when the Republicans eventually pick a candidate, and then side-by-side comparisons with President Biden can be made.

Jenn Jarecki: You also had a chance to talk with some Vermont political science professors about this issue. How do they interpret these poll numbers?

Bob Kinzel: Jenn, one person I talked with is Matt Dickinson. He's a longtime political science professor at Middlebury College. And he follows national politics very closely. Now, he told me, it's really important to remember that a voter's dissatisfaction for a candidate — which we saw in these polls — does not necessarily mean that that person won't vote for that candidate.

You know, one of the problems with the Biden presidency, they have not done a particularly good job in explaining what they have done. Now, do I agree with everything they have done? No, I don't.
Sen. Bernie Sanders

Matt Dickinson: It tells us they're dissatisfied with Biden. But it doesn't tell us that they would necessarily vote for somebody else. You don't beat somebody with nobody. So an open-ended question asking about dissatisfaction is not necessarily the same as saying will you vote for candidate B, C, or D as an alternative to A?

Bob Kinzel: And Professor Dickinson says another big takeaway from the poll is that many Democrats think there's a strong need for new and younger leaders for their party. Basically, it's time for the old guard to step aside.

Matt Dickinson: I think the young voters are looking for that generational change. But the opportunities, I think, aren't there because the old guard is blocking a lot of that potential popular support into actual candidates here who have a platform on which to run.

Jenn Jarecki: You also talked with Ted Kohn, who is the dean of liberal arts at Norwich University and a professor of history and political science. What were his takeaways from this polling?

Bob Kinzel: Jenn, he told me that he basically agrees with the members of the delegation that the president's age, the lack of strong messaging by the White House, and the political exhaustion of many voters are indeed key factors. And he also believes very strongly along with professor Dickinson that the Democrats have a very serious generational leadership problem.

Ted Kohn: And so, I think that's a real problem inside the Democratic Party to plan for a succession of a younger generation of people running for office who will appeal to a younger generation of voters and that two-thirds of the Democratic Party are dissatisfied with their choice again, in 2024.

Bob Kinzel: And Professor Kohn also says turnout in the 2024 election will be a key factor. And it will be the turnout in just a few counties in just a few of the battleground states that will probably determine the outcome of this election.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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