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As Joe Biden launches 2024 bid, don’t underestimate his chances

As Biden kicks off his 2024 campaign, Reagan's “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” question keeps coming to mind.

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On April 25, 2019, then-former Vice President Joe Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign. On April 25, 2023, incumbent President Joe Biden launched his re-election campaign. NBC News reported this morning:

President Joe Biden made his re-election bid official Tuesday, capping months of speculation over his plans four years to the day since he announced his 2020 campaign. ... The symmetry of the fourth anniversary makes a fitting opening for a president who has leaned into history at key moments to pitch his vision to Americans about the road ahead.

It’s not a secret that the Democrat’s path won’t be easy. There are understandable concerns about his age. His current approval rating can charitably be described as underwhelming. As my MSNBC colleague Hayes Brown explained in a persuasive piece this morning, Biden is making appeals to an electorate that’s never been especially enthusiastic about his presidency.

What’s more, there are key questions that do not yet have clear answers. Who will Republicans nominate to run against the incumbent? Will that candidate be facing felony charges on Election Day 2024? Will the Federal Reserve force a recession between now and then to combat inflation? The next presidential election is 560 days away, and no one can predict with confidence what kind of important developments we’ll see between now and then.

But when assessing Biden’s prospects, I’m reminded of a question that every recent American president has confronted.

Circling back to our coverage from the 2020 race, it’s a phrase linked to Ronald Reagan, the president who uttered it: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” The Republican asked it the first time in 1980, as a way of making the case against then-President Jimmy Carter, and Reagan asked it again four years later, during his re-election bid.

Most voters answered the question the way Reagan wanted them to, and he won both races with ease. But in the process, the Republican created a standard that comes up anew every four years, as the electorate is asked to consider whether the status quo marks an improvement over the recent past.

Yesterday, pollster Patrick Ruffini sparked some online conversation with a tweet: “Unlike Barack Obama in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2004, Joe Biden can’t credibly answer ‘yes’ to the ‘are you better off than you were four years ago?’ question. That’s why he’s on extremely shaky ground for re-election.”

The more I thought about Ruffini’s thesis, the more I came to believe he had it backwards.

It’s easy to forget, but on Biden’s Inauguration Day, Covid-19 was still claiming the lives of roughly 20,000 Americans per week. By any sane measure, the United States and its people are vastly better off now than before the president took office.

We can, and almost certainly should, continue down this same path. Since Biden became president, unemployment is much lower, reaching levels unseen in a half-century. Since Biden became president, the uninsured rate is also much lower, reaching levels unseen in American history.

The United States’ international standing has improved under Biden. The nation’s manufacturing sector has boomed under Biden. The president has also put together a record of bipartisan accomplishments unseen in the nation’s capital for a generation.

By most measures, if the 2024 race comes down to the “are you better off” question, I like the incumbent Democrat’s chances.