Biden is taking a page from Ronald Reagan's 1984 playbook in a push to quell voter concerns over his age

  • Biden faces concerns about his age as he begins a tough general election campaign.

  • After a fiery State of the Union address, he seems to be taking a page from Reagan's reelection bid.

  • A newly released general election ad attempts a "Morning in America" kind of message.

After President Joe Biden's electoral romp on Super Tuesday and his subsequent State of the Union address, his campaign quickly eased into its general election posture, with the commander in chief visiting key battleground states, including Georgia and Michigan.

But it was an ad entitled "For You" released earlier this month that took on one of the 81-year-old Biden's biggest challenges ahead of the election: addressing voter concerns over his age.

As he spoke in front of a camera, Biden had a distinctly sunny disposition. He quickly gets to the heart of the matter.

"Look, I'm not a young guy. That's no secret," the president said. "But here's the deal. I understand how to get things done for the American people."

He then leaned into his stewardship of the country through the COVID-19 pandemic while touting that he — and not former President Donald Trump — signed into law one of the most consequential infrastructure bills in decades.

Biden hopes to convey that his age hasn't hindered him from working with lawmakers to accomplish big things in Washington.

His early strategy is in some ways reminiscent of the 1984 election, when then-President Ronald Reagan, who was 73 years old at the time, also faced concerns about his age as he sought reelection.

Here's how Biden seems to be looking to Reagan for inspiration:

Biden is projecting Reaganesque positivity

In September 1984, Reagan's campaign released its "Morning in America" ad, widely seen as one of the most effective ads to ever air on television.

The ad depicts the ascendant United States, with Americans headed to work, a paperboy on his route, a couple getting married, and the American flag being raised by multiple individuals, while also pointing to lower inflation and higher homeownership that would pave the road to prosperity for millions of people across the country.

"Under the leadership of President Reagan, our country is prouder, and stronger, and better," the narrator says.

In Biden's "For You" ad, he is seated in a similarly gauzy setting, where he speaks of his effort to rebuild America through construction projects and climate crisis laws while noting his support for reproductive rights — an issue that the GOP continues to struggle with among voters of all stripes.

Mondale Reagan
President Ronald Reagan, right, and former Vice President Walter Mondale greet each other before their first debate in 1984.Bettmann

And while Biden criticizes Trump by name three times in the ad, he quickly transitions back to a lighthearted message at the end. "Look, I'm very young, energetic, and handsome. What the hell am I doing this for?" Biden jokingly says with a smile.

Looking back to late October 1984, Reagan pushed back against what many saw as an uneven first debate performance centered on his stamina by instead cracking an age-related joke that involved his then-56-year-old Democratic opponent, former Vice President Walter Mondale.

"I will not make age an issue of this campaign," Reagan said during the second and final debate. "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

The crowd laughed. Even Mondale laughed. And Reagan won the election in a landslide, winning 49 of 50 states.

Biden's own set of challenges

In November 1984, Biden won a third term representing Delaware in the Senate.

But nearly 40 years later, Biden faces some of the most daunting challenges of his political career.

Biden speaks at a campaign event in Atlanta, Ga., on March 9, 2024.Megan Varner/Getty Images

The United States is now more polarized than in 1984, with less ticket-splitting in congressional races and more hardened "red" and "blue" states that have gone for the same party for decades.

While Reagan encountered questions about his age relatively late in the campaign, Biden has had to face them for much of his first term in office.

The latest New York Times/Siena College poll showed that most likely voters believe Biden is too old to serve as president, although some voters who feel this way are still backing his reelection bid.

(One wild card: The 77-year-old Trump has so far fared better than Biden among voters on the issue of age, as the Times/Siena poll showed. But with a general election campaign that'll stretch for months, this could change.)

Biden has also faced persistently low job approval ratings for over a year. In February, a Gallup poll had Biden sitting at a 38% job approval rating, while Gallup also had him averaging a 43% rating throughout his term thus far.

With Trump often speaking about the country in dire terms, as he did earlier this month when he compared elections in the US to that of "third-world" countries, Biden will likely continue to lean heavily on the positivity of the Reagan playbook, especially as he looks to lock down Independents in November.

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