Reputation audit: Joe Biden

March 07, 2014, 12:45 PM GMT+0

Many voters still doubt whether the Vice President is presidential material

Vice Presidential reputations and fortunes are often closely tied to those of the President they serve. The American public has held a negative view of President Obama for most of his Presidency; they are split about Joe Biden in both their overall assessment of him and when it comes to his Vice Presidential performance. But while Biden fares modestly better than the President in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, he is not seen as qualified for the Presidency –and relatively few Democrats say they want him to run for that office in 2016.

Hillary Clinton's shadow

Last month, in interviews on ”The View” and on CNN, the Vice President said he sees no reason not to run, that the chances he will run are 50-50, and that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision about 2016 will have no impact on his. But right now, Americans don’t assess Biden as a candidate the same way they assess the former First Lady. In last week’s Economist/YouGov Poll four times as many Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run in 2016 as said they didn’t want to see her as a candidate. And the public overall was evenly divided. When it comes to Biden, many Democrats say he shouldn’t run.

One of the reasons may be that the public looks differently on the qualifications of these two political figures. Last week, by 49% to 38%, Americans said Hillary Clinton had the qualifications to be President. But even though Biden served as Senator for more than three decades and has been Vice President for five years, by 49% to 30% this week Americans say he is not qualified for the top job.

Even a quarter of Democrats say Biden doesn’t have the qualifications to be President – twice as many as say that about Clinton.

The assessment of Biden’s qualifications includes a negative view of his ability to handle an international crisis (this week and last week, of course, there have been international issues, including Russia’s incursions into Ukraine). Half the public say they would be uneasy about Biden in an international crisis; opinions of Clinton were divided.

A quarter of Democrats are uneasy about Biden in a crisis; just 14% were concerned about Clinton.

Biden defined

The images people have in their minds about Joe Biden are very different from their images of Clinton. Last week, positive assessments of Clinton focused on her strength and toughness; negative assessments frequently were based on a perception that she was not honest. When those with a favorable view of Biden (44% of the total) were asked to describe him, being honest was mentioned more than being strong, with “funny,” “friendly,” “good,” and “smart” also mentioned frequently.

In sharp contrast with the focus on honesty when it comes to Hillary Clinton, the words those with an unfavorable opinion of Biden (45% of the total) use go beyond just a single quality. The people who don’t like Biden use far more general – and very negative – words to describe him, castigating both his character and his intelligence.

More than one in four Americans say their opinions of Biden is very unfavorable, the same percentage with a very unfavorable view of Clinton. So Clinton is certainly not better liked overall than Biden is. But she seems to have generated more respect for her abilities than Biden has for his character.

Vice Presidents in history

Every Vice President is tied to the President with whom he serves, but some may become particularly memorable themselves. In assessing the Vice Presidents of the last 50 years, Democrat Al Gore (who served under Bill Clinton) and Republican George H.W. Bush (who was Ronald Reagan’s Vice President) top the list as the “best” Vice Presidents. But both served under popular Presidents who are still well thought of today, and Bush went on to be elected President in his own right. Biden and George W. Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney do well with their own party identifiers, while Gerald Ford, the only other Vice President besides George H.W. Bush to become President, is in fifth place overall.

Americans have short memories: except for Ford, few select any Vice President who served before 1980.

The top four also have their detractors. One in four Americans view Dick Cheney as the worst Vice President of the last 50 years. Bush, Gore, and Biden – and George H.W. Bush’s Vice President Dan Quayle – round out the top five in this category. Just 8% mention Richard Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew, the only Vice President forced to resign facing criminal charges. But those 45 and older are more likely to choose Agnew for this dubious honor.

Biden’s future trajectory may hinge on that of President Barack Obama. This week, 42% approve of the President’s handling of his job, while 55% disapprove. Nearly one in four Democrats give the President a negative rating.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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