Public image of Joe Biden

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Biden running alongside his security detail during Saint Patrick's Day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2014.

Joe Biden, the 46th president of the United States, has been in the national spotlight for over half a century, ever since he won his first election to the United States Senate in 1972. During his long tenure in the Senate, Biden was seen as a figure with the tendency to commit gaffes.[1] He has been associated with working-class politics during his career, having been raised in a working-class family.[citation needed] His capacity for empathy has been noted, as has his tendency for exaggeration. A long-standing parody of Biden by The Onion, popular during his time as Barack Obama's vice president, is thought to have contributed positively to his public image. Biden's approval ratings as president have overall been highly polarized, with mixed support from Democrats and almost complete opposition from Republicans.

Reputation[edit]

During his Senate tenure, Biden was consistently ranked among the least wealthy members,[2][3][4] which he attributed to being elected at a young age.[5] In November 2009, Biden's net worth was only $27,012,[6] but it had increased to $9 million dollars by November 2020, largely due to book sales and speaking fees after his vice presidency.[7][8][9]

Political writer Howard Fineman wrote that "Biden is not an academic, he's not a theoretical thinker, he's a great street pol. He comes from a long line of working people in Scranton—auto salesmen, car dealers, people who know how to make a sale. He has that great Irish gift."[10] In 2021, The Nation wrote that "Biden's attempt to identify with the working class has always been more aspiration than reality," and "he has long sought to appeal to the white working class, to position himself as part of it, even if this was as much a question of salesmanship and fantasy as anything else", noting that he was elected to the Senate at 29, after working as a public defender and subsequently serving on the New Castle County Council.[11] Political columnist David S. Broder wrote that Biden has grown over time, saying "he responds to real people—that's been consistent throughout."[10] Journalist James Traub wrote that "Biden is the kind of fundamentally happy person who can be as generous toward others as he is to himself."[12]

After the 2015 death of his eldest son Beau, Biden was praised for his empathetic nature and ability to communicate about grief.[13][14] CNN wrote in 2020 that his presidential campaign aimed to make him "healer-in-chief", while the New York Times described his extensive history of being called upon to give eulogies.[15]

On July 2, 2010, Biden delivered a eulogy for West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, for which he was criticized due to Byrd's prior association with the Ku Klux Klan.[16] Biden has also been criticized for praising segregationist senators John Stennis, James Eastland, and Strom Thurmond.[17]

Political gaffes[edit]

In 2006, journalist and TV anchor Wolf Blitzer described Biden as loquacious.[18] Jake Tapper said in 2007 that Biden sometimes "puts his foot in his mouth",[19][20][21][22] and according to Ben Smith, writing for Politico in 2008, Biden often deviates from prepared remarks.[23] In 2008, Mark Leibovich wrote for The New York Times that Biden's "weak filters make him capable of blurting out pretty much anything".[20] In 2018, Biden called himself a "gaffe machine".[24] Some of his gaffes have been characterized as racially insensitive.[25][26][27][28] For example, in 2006, Biden stated to an Indian American voter that "In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."[29] In 2020, he told Charlamagne tha God during an interview that "if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't Black."[30]

According to The New York Times, Biden often embellishes or exaggerates elements of his life, a trait also noted in 2014 by The New Yorker.[31][32] In October 2022, the Washington Post wrote that Biden often stretches the truth in order to connect with the ethnicity or identity of his audience.[33] For instance, Biden has claimed to have been more active in the civil rights movement than he actually was, and has falsely recalled being an excellent student who earned three college degrees.[31] The Times wrote, "Biden's folksiness can veer into folklore, with dates that don't quite add up and details that are exaggerated or wrong, the factual edges shaved off to make them more powerful for audiences."[32]

The Onion parody of Biden[edit]

Between 2009 and 2019, satirical online newspaper The Onion consistently portrayed Biden as an outrageous character who shared almost nothing in common with his namesake besides the title of vice president of the United States.[34][35] The character was also known as "Diamond Joe".[36] The publication portrayed Biden as a blue-collar "average Joe", an affable "goofy uncle", a muscle car driver, an avid fan of 1980s hair metal, a raucous party animal, a shameless womanizer, a recidivist petty criminal, and a drug-dealing outlaw.[37][38] Biden's character became one of The Onion's most popular features during the Obama presidency, garnering critical acclaim and a large readership.[37][39]

In 2019, Joe Garden, one of the contributors to the Onion's depiction of Biden, wrote an article in Vice Magazine expressing regret, and stating he "didn't take him seriously enough" and that The Onion "screwed up" and "let him off easy".[40]

Despite the extreme differences between the fictional character and the real politician, The Onion was regarded as having a significant, mostly positive influence on Biden's public image.[34][39] Commentators noted that the character likely reinforced public perceptions of Biden as a political figure with populist working-class appeal and a good-natured, easy-going disposition.[34][35] After briefly reviving the "Diamond Joe" version of Biden in 2019 for its coverage of the Democratic primaries, The Onion retired the character and the Onion's depiction changed from "goofy", "fun", and "relatable", to "biting, sometimes vicious satirical critiques of the actual candidate", and "a creep".[38]

Approval rating[edit]

According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden's favorable approval rating remained higher than his disapproval rating until August 30, 2021.[41] He began his presidency with an approval rating of above 53 percent according to the same source FiveThirtyEight, which takes an average of multiple individual polls. Biden's average disapproval rating rose to 57 percent by July 2022, Biden, before improving to the 51 to 52 percent mark by October 2022.[42] Similarly, his approval rating dipped to 38 percent in July 2022, before recovering to the 42 to 43 percent mark by September 2022.[41] His 2023 approval and disapproval ratings have remained flat on average around these percentage points (42 to 43 percent and 51 to 53 percent respectively), which is comparable to former President Donald Trump at a similar stage in his presidency.[41]

According to Gallup, Biden's approval fell to 37 percent in April and October 2023, the lowest in their polling surveys for Biden.[43] In December 2023, Biden's approval fell to 33 percent in a Pew Research poll, the lowest since he took office.[44] In February 2021, Gallup reported that 98 percent of Democrats approved of Biden;[43][45] however, as of October 2023 that number had declined to 75 percent.[43] Democrats' opinion of Biden's job has dropped by 11 percent during October 2023. According to Gallup, Biden has alienated some members of his own party with his swift and decisive show of support for Israel.[46] Biden's approval rating among Republicans was 12 percent in February 2021, but ever since August 2021 that number has remained below 10 percent.[43] In August 2023, a poll by the Associated Press and NORC Public Affairs Research Center found that three-quarters of people think Biden is too old for another term.[47] By the end of 2023, Biden's approval rating was at 39 percent, which Gallup noted to be the lowest approval rating in modern history for a first-term president in the year preceding his re-election campaign; by comparison, Trump's approval rating at the end of 2019 was 45 percent.[48]

Age and health concerns[edit]

According to ABC News, Vladimir Putin and the Russian government spread disinformation about Joe Biden's mental health during the 2020 presidential election,[49] and the Department of Homeland Security witheld publication of a bulletin warning law enforcement agencies about this campaign.[50] During and in the years since his 2020 presidential campaign, Donald Trump has claimed, without evidence, that Biden has dementia, calling him "Sleepy Joe" at rallies.[51] This angle has continued to be popular among right-wing media outlets.[52][53][54]

According to a 2024 poll, Biden's age and health are major or moderate concerns to 86% of voters,[55] up from 76% earlier in 2024.[56] According to another 2024 poll, a majority of those who voted for Biden in 2020 said they believed he was too old to be an effective president; The New York Times noted that these concerns "cut across generations, gender, race and education ... Seventy-three percent of all registered voters said he was too old to be effective, and 45 percent expressed a belief that he could not do the job."[57] Remarks by Biden where he confused the identities of recent European leaders came under scrutiny in February 2024, with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defending Biden by stating that "many people...can misspeak sometimes".[56] Upon concluding the investigation into Biden's handling of classified documents, the special counsel suggested that he would come across to a jury as an "elderly man with poor memory" and wrote that his memory "appeared to have significant limitations".[58] White House lawyers disputed this characterization[56] while Biden rejected this claim in a televised press conference on the day the special counsel's report was released, though during the conference referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the President of Mexico.[59]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ "A Look at Biden's Net Worth". The Boston Globe. Associated Press. August 24, 2008. Archived from the original on July 25, 2012. Retrieved February 6, 2009.
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