The FINANCIAL — As Vice President Joe Biden continues to ponder whether to enter the 2016 Democratic nomination campaign, Americans’ views of him are more positive (49%) than negative (37%). These views are similar to what Gallup found in its prior update from August and continue to be improved from Americans’ divided opinions of Biden through most of his term as vice president.
As recently as March, equal percentages of Americans had favorable (39%) and unfavorable (39%) opinions of Biden. One reason opinions of Biden have improved in recent months could be Americans’ sympathy for him after his son Beau died of cancer earlier this year.
Another reason Biden’s favorability may be higher is that many Democrats want to see Biden enter the presidential campaign. They may think the Democratic Party needs an alternative to its weakened front-runner, Hillary Clinton, whom Americans currently view more negatively than positively. In stark contrast to Biden’s rising image since March, Clinton’s image has worsened since then.
Right now, Bernie Sanders is Clinton’s closest challenger, but given his admitted socialist leanings, there are questions about his electability. None of the three other announced Democrats has emerged as a credible challenger to Clinton, though that could change in the days after Tuesday’s first Democratic debate.
On only two other occasions since Biden became vice president has Gallup found significantly more positive than negative views of him. These include late 2012 after President Barack Obama and Biden were elected to a second term (48% favorable, 40% unfavorable) and during the “honeymoon phase” of the Obama administration (48% favorable, 36% unfavorable) in 2009. In fact, Biden’s current +12 net favorable rating ties that June 2009 reading as the best of his vice presidency.
Prior to his being sworn in as vice president, in late 2008 and early January 2009, Biden’s image tilted considerably more positive than negative. This included a personal best 59% favorable rating in a poll conducted in the days after the Obama-Biden ticket won the 2008 presidential election.
Biden Image Better Among Most Key Subgroups
Biden’s favorable ratings are higher now than in March among most key subgroups. The sharpest gains in favorability, all near 20 percentage points, are among Democrats, nonwhites and Catholics.
Democrats, as would be expected, have always viewed Biden positively. But their opinions of him have become increasingly positive in recent months, now at 85% favorable, and suggest he likely would be a serious contender for the party’s nomination if he entered the race.
Biden’s more positive ratings among nonwhites are also noteworthy because support among this group could be decisive in determining the Democratic Party’s nominee. While nonwhite Democrats have highly positive views of Clinton, this is not the case for Sanders. Thus, Biden likely would be more competitive with Clinton than Sanders would be among this key Democratic subgroup.
In addition to Democrats and nonwhites, most liberals (74%) and college graduates (62%) view the vice president positively.
Earlier in the year, 35% of Catholics had a favorable opinion of Biden, similar to the national average. Catholics’ favorable rating increased to 42% in Gallup’s August update, but now sits at 54%. Biden is Catholic, and more Catholics may be aware of that fact after he attended many of Pope Francis’ public events during the widely covered U.S. papal visit in September.
Biden is now viewed as positively among Americans as at any time since he became vice president in January 2009. If he is considering entering the presidential race, he would appear to be well-positioned given those relatively positive ratings and his high public profile.
Among the announced presidential candidates, only Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have significantly higher favorable than unfavorable ratings among all Americans, according to Gallup’s tracking survey. Marco Rubio, Sanders, and John Kasich have slightly more positive than negative ratings.
To some degree, though, Biden’s relatively positive image may reflect his status as a non-candidate. If he officially entered the race, Americans might view him in more strongly political terms. Additionally, the media and his political opponents would give greater scrutiny to his record, and if some of that scrutiny is unflattering, it could negatively affect the way Americans feel about him.