Election 2024

Americans Fear 'Disaster' From Both Biden and Trump

Voters deserve much of the blame for this unnecessary mess.


Americans see the next presidential election shaping up as a national trainwreck. When asked in recent weeks, majorities of respondents told pollsters that the election of either Joe Biden or Donald Trump as president would be a setback or a disaster for the United States. With majorities also considering it likely that the two White House veterans will be their party's respective nominees for a 2024 rematch it seems the public anticipate the inauguration of the next head of state with little enthusiasm.

Honestly, though, voters deserve a share of blame for this mess.

It's Bad Whichever Retread Wins

In a poll conducted May 17-20 for CNN by SSRS and published late last week, respondents were asked about their reactions to a potential win in 2024 by either the current president or his predecessor.

"Thinking ahead to next year's election for president, if [INSERT NAME] won the election, would that be (a disaster for the country, a setback, a step forward, or a triumph for the country)?"

A potential Biden win was described by 41 percent of respondents as a disaster, with another 26 percent naming it a setback. All of 27 percent called it a step forward and 7 percent named it a triumph. That's a solid two-thirds calling a Biden win bad for the country.

A possible return to the White House by Trump was described by 44 percent of respondents as a disaster, while 12 percent saw it as a setback. Twenty-seven percent called it a step forward and 17 percent a triumph. A full 56 percent see a Trump win as hurting the United States.

Unloved But Inevitable

Unsurprisingly, neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump gets a lot of love from the public. Biden is viewed favorably by 35 percent of respondents, and unfavorably by 57 percent. Trump has a similar 37 percent favorable rating and 57 percent unfavorable.

A separate poll by NBC has 70 percent of respondents saying "Joe Biden should not run for president" in 2024, and 60 percent expressing the same opinion about Donald Trump. Another poll by the Marquette Law School put opposition to a Biden run at 76 percent and to a Trump run at 64 percent.

That should mean that Americans hope to move on and put somebody else in the presidency, right? They might be ready to put anybody else at the head of their respective political parties to avert "disaster," you'd think. Instead, though, Americans appear resigned to the prospect of these two heralds of political doom once again battling it out as leading contenders for the White House.

Asked "how likely do you think it is that Joe Biden will win the Democratic nomination for president?" 24 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents said that such an outcome is "extremely likely," with another 31 percent considering it "very likely." Similar results come from asking Republicans and Republican-leaning independents "how likely do you think it is that Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination for president?" Twenty-four percent said that such an outcome is "extremely likely," with another 28 percent considering it "very likely." That's a solid majority in both cases that expect these two to lead their parties once again, setting up a replay of the last election.

Given that Trump and Biden both enjoy comfortable leads in recent preference polls among their respective party faithful, that seems like a fair forecast for next year's contest, unless something changes. Granted, it's early days yet and Trump, in particular, faces strong challengers—especially in the form of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Biden's rivals are less serious and it's difficult to displace a sitting president. But he's also a not especially well-preserved octogenarian; his party might be forced to pick an alternative by the simple progress of time.

Light at the End of the Tunnel—In a Way

But what a profoundly depressing view the polls offer of this country's politics. Americans consider a second term in office for either of these men as a net negative for the country, with strong pluralities describing the prospect as a "disaster," and yet describe one version or the other of that oncoming disaster as likely, if not entirely unavoidable. Here, truly, is an example of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and knowing that it's an oncoming freight train.

For all of the inevitable talk about what is supposedly yet another "most important election ever" in the world's leading democracy, it's obvious that most people in this country feel like they have little say in the process. Americans fully anticipate that the country's two dominant political parties will offer up unpopular candidates who ought not be running for office, that one of these candidates will win the presidency, and that the consequences will be terrible.

At the very least, this is an indictment of a political system in which the dominant two political parties almost seems to delight in offering up Kang vs. Kodos-style non-choices between the worst possible options. After all, what are you going to do? Throw your vote away on other candidates like the voters in every other functioning democracy on the planet?

Voters Deserve Blame

The blame here is largely on Americans themselves. People consistently tell pollsters that they want other options on the ballot, and they do so in numbers that suggest success for rival efforts.

"More Americans say a third party is necessary (39%) than say the Democratic and Republican parties are enough to represent Americans (30%)," YouGov reported last summer.

"Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults say the 'parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed,'" Gallup found in 2021.

"It would take at least five parties to capture the ideological aspirations of Americans," researchers noted for the Voter Study Group in 2018.

But when offered candidates who aren't Democrats or Republicans, voters rarely take advantage. Nor do they give much money or support to political entrepreneurs between elections in hopes of expanding the range of ballot options beyond those put up by the major parties. Political parties may come and go in most countries, but Americans remain stuck with two creaky organizations dating to the 19th century that offer candidates most people view with dread and whose seemingly inevitable victory is foreseen as "disaster" no matter which way the election goes.

As awful as the two major parties undoubtedly are, and as unpalatable as their likely candidates promise to be, the public needs to take a large share of the blame for this situation. If leading contenders for high office are so terrible, voters should choose somebody else. And if putting the government in the hands of politicians from either major party threatens disaster, it shouldn't have been allowed to accumulate enough power to do such harm. The country may face disaster, but it's self-inflicted.