Only 22% want Biden to run again

Even among Democrats, the percentage is still low, 35%

MASSACHUSETTS OVERWHELMINGLY voted for President Biden in 2020. Now residents seem to be looking for other options for 2024.

The MassINC Polling Group’s latest statewide poll (topline, crosstabs) finds that only 43 percent of Massachusetts residents had a favorable opinion of Biden. About as many, 42 percent, have an unfavorable opinion. Favorability increases to 69 percent for those that identify as Democrats. Only 22 percent want Biden to run for a second term, which increases for Democrats to a mere 35 percent (see chart below).

As Massachusetts is one of the most reliably blue states, and the state with the second-highest vote percentage for Biden in the 2020 election, this could complicate his reelection bid.

This is not a new phenomenon for Biden, who underperformed in previous Massachusetts polling. Before the November election, Biden was polling at 49 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable among likely voters. In a poll from summer of 2022, 45 percent of Democratic primary voters stated that they did not want Biden to run for re-election.

An important caveat is that this survey was fielded the week before Biden’s State of the Union address. It’s possible that the speech will help Biden’s approval numbers, particularly among members of his own party who are more likely to have watched the address. A CNN snap poll of viewers nationwide illustrates the point. The share of voters in that poll who thought the country was headed in “the right direction” increased from 52 percent prior to the speech to 71 percent following it.

That starting number, 52 percent, is much higher than national readings on this question. It’s very close to the 49 percent “right direction” among Massachusetts Democrats in the MassINC Polling Group poll. In other words, Biden may have helped his case, but mostly among his own base and not with the general public. It’ll be a few days before we have a national poll that shows whether Biden got a bump from the address.

So, what are Massachusetts residents looking for in a presidential candidate, other than someone not named Joe Biden? To find out, we showed poll respondents 12 traits, randomly broken out into groups of 4, repeated 9 times. For each group of 4, respondents selected which they believed was most important and least important in a presidential candidate. We then calculated a mean score on a 0-100 scale (see chart below).

At the top of the list, character traits such as “is honest and trustworthy”, “is tough enough to keep America safe”, and “will stand firm for their beliefs” came in as the three most important. At the bottom were whether a candidate believes in God, and then demographic qualities like a candidate being a woman, being a person of color,

Interestingly, one of the most commonly expressed concerns about Joe Biden, his age, does not come through as one of the more important traits for a presidential candidate. “Is under the age 65” comes in in the bottom third of the most important traits one wants to see.

Two contradicting character traits come neck and neck in the third and fourth positions: “will stand firm for their beliefs” and “will compromise to get things done.” The inability to achieve both simultaneously may bear some insight on people’s negative opinions of Biden, or of any politicians trying to move policy forward in a deeply polarized political environment.

As with most things in polling, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents express some differences in terms of the traits they value most in a candidate. Republicans care more about being tough enough to keep America safe, having business experience, and believing in God. Believing in climate change is the second most important trait for Democrats, and the third least important for Republicans. Additionally, younger residents, ages 18-29, care more about the candidate being a person of color and less about keeping America safe than other age groups, while non-White residents care more about belief in God that White residents.

Of course, voters won’t be choosing from a list of character traits in 2024, but a list of actual human beings that embody these ideals to varying extents. It’s one thing for residents to say they want someone other than Joe Biden to run for president, but the question is whether whatever Democrat or Democrats that end up challenging him for the nomination end up presenting a more appealing option.

The longer that polls show Biden in a weakened position, the greater the opportunity will be for a challenger to emerge. With divided government in Washington for the next two years, the president will have few opportunities to deliver on his agenda beyond what he has already accomplished. The question for Democrats may end up being, if not Joe Biden, then who else?