The Pros and Cons of a Joe Biden Presidency

Robert Shapiro, a professor and former chair of the Department of Political Science, frames Joe Biden's presidential path to 2020 elections.

Robert Y. Shapiro
May 01, 2019

Former Vice President Joe Biden has announced that he will run for the Democratic nomination for president for a third time. He is a well liked leader who appeals to the moderate—but still quite liberal—wing of the Democratic Party. His association with the Obama Administration is a plus among Democrats, and this may make him a popular choice among voters who went with Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. 

At 76, Biden’s age might be problematic, especially for younger voters who want new leadership in the White House. Those who are left-leaning Democrats might not be drawn to his more centrist approach. There’s also the fact that he is a white man whose treatment of women has not won him many fans—his handling of the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings when Anita Hill testified about Clarence Thomas’s behavior toward her continues to cast a shadow over Biden's record.

Still, of all the candidates who have entered the ring so far, Biden may be the biggest threat to President Trump in regaining Democratic votes in swing states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. This strength may give Biden a noticeable bump in the polls, but he will now be the subject of closer scrutiny and criticism of his past performance as a U.S. senator from Delaware.

What will matter is how he campaigns and performs in debates. It is pretty clear that most of the current candidates will likely stay in the race through Super Tuesday, when about a dozen states hold primaries. Though speculative, Biden has a good chance to finish strong enough in early-voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. This will help Biden garner further support and lead in the delegate count going into a Democratic Convention in which no candidate has a majority.

If Biden has the lead by then, all eyes will be on his choice of running mate. A vice presidential candidate such as Senator Kamala Harris from California, who is also running for president, could address some serious concerns that Democratic Party activists have with a Biden presidency.

Robert Shapiro headshot

Robert Y. Shapiro is the Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government. He specializes in American politics with research and teaching interests in public opinion, policymaking, political leadership, the mass media, and applications of statistical methods. His most recent books are The Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and the Media (co-edited with Lawrence R. Jacobs, Oxford University Press, 2011) and Selling Fear: Counterterrorism, the Media, and Public Opinion (with Brigittte L. Nacos and Yaeli Bloch-Elkon, University of Chicago Press, 2011).