04.28.2023 0

As U.S. economy slows down, so do Biden’s reelection hopes as Kennedy rises to 19 percent in Democratic primary poll against incumbent president

By Robert Romano

The U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at a less than expected 1.1 percent annualized in the first quarter of 2023, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, as President Joe Biden officially jumped into the 2024 presidential race seeking his second term.

The news comes as upstart rival in the Democratic primary, Robert Kennedy, Jr., keeps rising in the few polls willing to pit him against the incumbent president, garnering 19 percent to Biden’s 62 percent in the latest Fox News poll taken April 21 to April 24. Marianne Williamson showed in third place at 9 percent.

That’s a 5-point improvement from a USA Today/Suffolk University poll taken April 15 to April 18, where Kennedy had 14 percent. Whereas, Biden lost five points, when just a week earlier he had 67 percent, while Williamson was at 5 percent.

Both of which are better than Kennedy’s first showing of 10 percent in a Morning Consult poll on April 7 through April 9. There Biden had 70 percent and Williamson at 4 percent.

While Kennedy’s chances of defeating Biden outright in a head-to-head primary remain astronomically low, they do begin to show weakness by the incumbent president, both internally and among independents, with the amount of voters willing to say they are voting for either Kennedy or Williamson up to 28 percent in the Fox News poll from the 14 percent in the Morning Consult poll in just two weeks.

And the average of rank-tiered Democratic wish list polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com — that is, polls where Biden is pitted against non-candidates in the Democratic primary rather than the candidates actually running — Biden is down to an average 35 percent.


191219321952196819761980 and 1992 all saw incumbent presidents with significant primary challenges. In every single case, the incumbent president either declined to seek reelection, as with Harry Truman in 1952, who lost the New Hampshire primary, and in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson barely beat Eugene McCarthy and then decided to withdraw from the race altogether, or they do run to disastrous results. In none of these cases did the strong primary challenger go on to become their party’s nominee, discounting any hand wavery by Kennedy’s detractors about the potential spoiler role in the race he might be playing.

Which would be the wrong way of analyzing it. George H.W. Bush didn’t lose to Bill Clinton in 1992 because Pat Buchanan gave him a competitive primary. It’s the other way around, Pat Buchanan was able to wage a competitive primary because the incumbent president had weaknesses that were easy to expose in a competitive primary, not to mention the fact that Republicans by that time had occupied the White House for three consecutive terms. The longer one-party rule goes on, the more likely independents are to say it’s time for a change.

The economy, among other issues, looms as another sword of Damacles for Biden, a key metric by which one can begin to judge an incumbent president’s chances of being reelected. The GDP in the fourth quarter of 2022 was moving at a swifter 2.6 percent, and even faster in the third quarter of 2022 at 3.2 percent.

Which, is what usually happens after peak inflation in a business cycle — the annualized Consumer Price Index hit a high of 9.1 percent in June 2022 — as prices come down and demand weakens.

The next leg of that, the last indicator to move south, are jobs, but with the unemployment rate still at an historic low of 3.5 percent, it appears the job losses from the current economic slowdown remain on the horizon—if they come at all in the wake of the continued Baby Boomer retirement wave that has led to job shortages.

Still, Biden’s own White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Federal Reserve are both projecting about 4.6 percent unemployment by the end of 2024, and 4.3 percent for 2023, so they clearly see something coming that invariably will also have political implications as we head into 2024. If true, that amounts to about 2 million job losses dead ahead, with Biden having to run for reelection in the midst of a recession.

OMB also has GDP softening to 0.6 percent in 2023, so the 1.1 percent growth in the first quarter, if followed by a negative second, third, and/or fourth quarter might get to about that.

Job openings have softened, too, down to 9.9 million in Feb. 2023 from a peak of 12 million in March of 2022. Unfortunately for Biden, that’s another recession indicator.

The remaining question might be less whether a recession is on the way than whether a rise in unemployment happens before or after the 2024 election. There’s still a lot of time, but there are rare exceptions when it looks like the U.S. economy is headed into a recession, softens up a bit but then does not fully succumb to the downturn.

The fact is, incumbent presidents are really, really hard to defeat in their reelection bids, with about a 70 percent historic reelection rate. There have only been 11 presidents defeated in a reelection bid since the first presidential election of 1788 and 1789 , including former President Donald Trump, and only twice when it happened two elections in a row. In the 1880s and 1890s, it was Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. In the modern case, it was Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

The bully pulpit is an enormous advantage, but the two predictors out there that portend badly for an incumbent president are recessions and competitive primaries, and with the GDP slowing down and Robert Kennedy, Jr. rising, looks like Biden might have both.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

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