Skip to content

‘Strongest economy in the world’: Aviator Joe is selling. Voters aren’t buying.

‘You cannot square that,’ Durbin says of voters’ preference for Trump on infrastructure

President Joe Biden arrives on the South Lawn of the White House on Marine One on Aug. 14.
President Joe Biden arrives on the South Lawn of the White House on Marine One on Aug. 14. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden donned his signature aviator sunglasses over a gray suit last Friday when talking about an economy that still has voters frustrated.

However, some of his allies on Capitol Hill donned shrugs and raised brows this week when discussing what is becoming a problem for the president and his party as they gear up for an election that will decide whether they can hold the White House and Senate. There were multiple slow shakes of heads Wednesday as senators searched for an explanation of his inability to convince voters that the economy is improving.

A poll released hours later brought more dismal numbers for the 80-year-old Democratic president. A whopping 76 percent of respondents to a CNN-SSRS survey said they had concerns about Biden’s ability to serve out a second term. Just 26 percent said he has the stamina to serve as leader of the free world — a 6 percentage point drop since March.

Down 7 points since March, only 28 percent said the president inspires confidence. And just 33 percent are proud Biden is the president. Voters have told pollsters since Biden took office that the economy is their top issue. The CNN survey brought more dismal news for the White House.

More than half, 58 percent, of respondents said Biden’s policies have made the economic situation worse. That’s 8 percentage points worse than last fall. That is the latest poll that shows no matter how much economists say the U.S. economy is recovering, voters are not feeling it in the grocery store and at the gas pump.

Some Democratic senators are baffled as Biden and former President Donald Trump are now in a dead heat in a hypothetical 2024 general election rematch, according to some national polls.

“It’s hard to explain. You know, I think he has a great story to tell and has achieved a lot of progress,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday. “I know what the average person is facing with the cost of gasoline, for example. I don’t know how much the president can do directly. But that’s a continual reminder to American consumers that prices are too high.”

Another veteran Senate Democrat, Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, took a long breath when asked if Biden should be worried about poll numbers that either have remained low or are headed in the wrong direction as 2024 approaches.

“I think President Biden has a message about his presidency, and I’m not a political media specialist, so I don’t know how to get that message across,” Cardin said. “But I think he has a really good story to tell. And that should help them in 2024.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries used a Tuesday post on X, formerly known as Twitter, to contend that “President Biden and House Dems are building a healthy economy that works for everyday Americans.”

Last week, Biden portrayed what he did for the economy as such a bright spot, he kept his aviator sunglasses on for the whole speech.

It was a, well, unique look for a presidential address in the White House’s Rose Garden — especially as Biden tries yet again to break through to voters on economic issues.

“We’ve faced some pretty tough times in recent years. A pandemic that took more than a million of our friends and neighbors. A million fewer people sitting at our dining room or kitchen tables. People we raised and loved. People we grew up with. Gone. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It wasn’t that long ago that 20 million Americans were out of work,” Biden said.

“But the American people didn’t give up. They never give up. They’ve never given up,” he added. “And today, we have the strongest economy in the world, the lowest inflation rate among the major economies, 13.5 million new jobs.”

Voters just do not feel the same way, however.

Yet another poll raised doubts about whether Biden and Democrats can do or say anything that might cause voters to give the president and his congressional allies more credit for an economy that has averted a recession. One reason why: Even though inflation is lower than it was earlier this year, prices that went up have stayed up and are still hitting voters wallets’ hard.

Most Americans (57 percent) surveyed late last month by The Wall Street Journal disapproved of Biden’s handling of the economy. Thirty-seven percent approved. On inflation, the poll delivered even more bad news for Biden, with only 34 percent approving of how he has attacked high prices.

Paradoxically for Biden, voters have more confidence in Trump to improve the country’s infrastructure (47 percent to Biden’s 45 percent). That’s even though Biden pushed an infrastructure bill through Congress that has shovels in the ground across the country, and “infrastructure week” became a punch line during Trump’s term.

“You cannot square that. I mean, all we can do is make sure we deliver the message on the infrastructure bill, and that Trump had none,” Durbin said. “Biden has had an historic offering that really is changing the face of America.”

Analysts at the Brookings Institution have compiled data showing economic stimulus and infrastructure legislation passed during Biden’s term is pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into state and local coffers. With those federal monies, “local entities are making investments in workforce development, re-skilling programs, and targeted training to prepare workers for the job market of the future,” according to a recent Brookings white paper.

Via those Biden-era measures, “U.S. labor recovery reflects a combined story of unique market conditions and targeted local investments in workers to generate long-term opportunities and build a sustainable workforce for the next generation,” the think tank added.

Yet, Democrats this week acknowledged voters are not giving Biden much credit for what they also acknowledge is a slowly recovering economy. To be sure, there is a disconnect between the poll results and packed airports, restaurants and shops — where Americans are spending at a healthy rate.

As the president continues setting up his 2024 reelection campaign, 63 percent of those surveyed disapproved of his efforts to curb inflation.

Other polls have found voters also are concerned about the job market, which Jared Bernstein, head of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, told Fox News on Sunday is “very strong.” Biden is not getting a bump from his administration’s record on job creation, with 47 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving.

Those kinds of numbers are a big reason the WSJ survey shows Biden and Trump, despite the latter’s legal troubles, now running neck and neck nationally.

A few weeks ago, Biden was up a few points nationally in some polls. Maybe the increasingly bleak and confusing poll numbers, somehow, look better when wearing aviator shades?

Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett, a former White House correspondent, writes a weekly column for Roll Call, parts of which often first appear in the subscription-based CQ Senate newsletter. His column will return on Friday, Sept. 22.

Recent Stories

Trump’s mini-mes in uniform are waging war on American institutions

Fong elected to fill McCarthy’s seat in California

Key results from primaries in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon and Idaho

Biden touts veterans care in state he can’t afford to lose

Pentagon pursuing Russian use of Musk’s Starlink terminals

Capitol Ink | MAGA spinoff