President Barack Obama sought to give a boost to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign by appearing with his former vice president in a video released Thursday — but while there are clear benefits to Biden’s candidacy from Obama’s active support, there are also clear limitations.
Biden cannot win the election in November by riding on Obama’s coattails. This is especially true because Biden and his fellow Democrats are still struggling to develop a positive narrative surrounding Biden’s candidacy that is more than a reaction to President Trump’s polarization and division.
In the socially distanced conversation between Biden and Obama, the two discussed the future of the country, Biden’s experience and ability to lead during a crisis, and Trump’s leadership failures.
In lieu of traditional campaign events and rallies, which have been brought to a standstill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Biden is faced with the challenge of connecting with voters while expanding his digital campaign presence. Trump’s digital infrastructure currently outmatches Biden’s.
Ultimately, Obama is an important surrogate who can compellingly communicate the case for Biden’s candidacy in a way that can help unite the Democratic Party, generate excitement and enthusiasm, and mobilize the Democratic coalition that Biden needs in order to win.
In many ways, the video conversation seemed to accomplish a large aspect of what Biden needs to do in order to solidify his lead over Trump.
Specifically, the former vice president needs to convey a positive narrative surrounding his presidential candidacy that highlights his plans to rebuild the economy, expand health care, and improve race relations —while also emphasizing President Trump’s failures in these areas.
During the segment where Obama and Biden discussed the coronavirus crisis, Obama lauded Biden for his leadership in dealing with public health crises during his tenure as vice president. At the same time, Obama made a clearly veiled attack on Trump’s reluctance to rely on advice from public health experts and his failure to flatten the curve of new cases.
Obama said that he has “confidence that [Biden is] going to listen to the experts,” and “pay attention to the science,” in the same way that “other countries with our kinds of resources are dealing with [the pandemic] right now, which is smartly.”
Biden and his fellow Democrats are still struggling to develop a positive narrative surrounding Biden’s candidacy that is more than a reaction to President Trump’s polarization and division.
As a generally popular former president, Obama is uniquely capable of vouching for Biden’s leadership, empathy and experience — while also generating enthusiasm among electorally critical demographic groups, especially within the Democratic Party.
In 2008 and 2012, Obama was able to build a winning Democratic coalition by bringing together the precise groups of voters that the former vice president needs to win — specifically, by generating a massive turnout of Black voters, exciting millennials and younger voters, and courting independents and Midwestern White working-class voters.
Obama’s strength as a Biden surrogate — and arguably the former president’s ability to help turn out the voters Biden will need in order to a build a winning coalition — is substantiated by a Fox News poll that was released in May. Notably, Obama holds markedly higher favorability ratings than both Biden and Trump overall and among key voter groups.
Obama is viewed favorably by nearly 63 percent of Americans, according to the poll, while just 49 percent view Biden favorably, and just 43 percent hold a favorable view of Trump.
Moreover, while Biden may be outperforming Trump among Black voters and younger voters, less than half of these voters hold a favorable view of Biden. This signals that while Biden outperforms Trump among these groups in public polls in the same way that Hillary Clinton did in 2016, Biden may have an issue turning out these voters to cast ballots for him.
However, Obama is vastly popular among Black voters and younger voters, and his active involvement in the campaign — even if it is primarily a digital campaign — has the potential to help Biden boost turnout among these voters.
Indeed, while 78 percent of Black voters are strongly favorable toward Obama, only 47 percent are strongly favorable towards Biden.
Further, while 7-in-10 younger voters (under age 45) view Obama favorably, only 49 percent view Biden favorably.
Additionally, Obama outperforms both Trump and Biden among two critical groups that both candidates are vying for: voters in battleground states and independent voters.
While 64 percent of voters in battleground states view Obama favorably, only 48 percent of these voters view Biden favorably, and just 43 percent view Trump favorably.
Likewise, while 67 percent of independent voters view Obama favorably, just 37 percent have a favorable view of Biden, and 32 percent have a favorable view of Trump.
Ultimately, while Obama’s active involvement in Biden’s campaign will likely be beneficial to the former vice president’s candidacy — and may help excite and turn out critical voter groups for Biden — Obama’s support can by no means guarantee a Biden victory.
In order for Biden to mobilize the Democratic Party and maintain his lead among independents and voters in battleground states, he needs to have his own version of Obama’s “Yes We Can” message that includes a promise of a better future for all of us.
Thus far, Biden does not have that message. And with protests and increased crime hitting largely Democratic cities and a platform that pays homage to the far-left of the Democratic Party, it isn't clear that Obama's video can or will fundamentally change — much less improve — Biden’s image or clarify his message for swing voters.