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Anti-Incumbency Wave Abroad Illustrates Serious Threat To Biden

Will Biden's D+ presidency follow the pattern of other troubled incumbents?

President Biden engages in a conversation with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi at the opening ceremony of the G20 Leaders' Summit in Indonesia on November 15, 2022. Photo by Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

When the world's largest democracy, India, underwent a complex seven-phase, 41-day general election to elect 543 members of its parliament this week, exit polls showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alliance winning 360 - 400 seats in a landslide. The dynamic leader, who had catapulted to the world's stage as the host of the 2023 G-20 summit in New Delhi, at which he invited South Africa as a permanent member, was seeking a third term.

When the official results were declared, Modi's alliance could only manage 292 seats. His Bharatiya Janata Party's performance was so terrible that it lost 63 seats, forcing it to seek alliance partners to stake a claim to form the government, Israeli-style. It was a far cry from the party's spin going into the elections and reminded us of how former President Barack Obama described the 2010 midterm vote for the Democrats: "a shellacking."

Just over three time zones away, during the same week, South Africa's ruling ANC, of Nelson Mandela fame, suffered a historic election defeat. In power for 30 long years since the last days of apartheid, the party lost its majority in the country's National Assembly, ushering in a period of coalition governance. In his first comments, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who will step down, said, "Our people have spoken whether we like it or not."

Two major democracies suffering an anti-incumbent wave is terrible news to President Biden. Luckily for him, America follows a presidential-style participatory democracy in which voters directly elect their leader, and coalition politics are irrelevant. Only one person can be elected in a binary-choice election. Former President Trump has consistently led the polls, especially in the battleground states. Trump's stunning felony conviction garnered headlines around the world and created sharp political arguments across America. Still, the anti-incumbent mood in the United States is so strong that our June I&I/TIPP Poll actually showed Trump improving over his May standing.

India's election results should have significantly frightened the Biden campaign. While it is perilous for any journalistic outfit to compare elections across two countries, what is undisputed is that incumbents seek reelection based on their accomplishments. And here, Modi's record is unmatched among the world's largest democracies. Further, as the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections, we have observed that in the final days before the election, undecided voters usually end up supporting the challenger in larger numbers rather than the incumbent - because they are not convinced by the incumbent's performance.

India is now ranked among the world's top five economies. The country's investment in infrastructure—roads, bridges, ports, and airports—is impressive. Under Modi, the country embraced the equivalent of a VAT tax to improve inflows and has spent on public welfare programs to benefit the poor, including gas connections, toilets, water, and electricity. India's biometric identification - where a citizen's biometrics is needed to obtain government benefits - has surprised even G-20 leaders because of its efficiency, although significant privacy concerns remain. The country's advances in digital payments make it a leader in the Free World. Even street vendors use QR codes and mobile phones to pay and receive money seamlessly. India has also made impressive achievements in science and technology, becoming the only country to land a rover on the moon's South Pole with a budget of less than $65 million. India's accomplishments have made it a regular destination for foreign leaders seeking partnerships, such as providing skilled engineers to work in their countries. Modi has attended state receptions in Washington and numerous other world capitals.

Despite such a solid record, Modi's party was shunned by the electorate, blaming him for promoting an aggressively Hindu-centric agenda and talking down to India's Muslim minority. The Biden campaign is wondering: If Modi can go down, how would Biden do with his terrible record of leadership?

America had engaged in no new conflicts during President Trump's entire term. Within ten months of the Biden administration came the Afghan debacle. After twenty years of blood and treasure lost to dislodge the Taliban, Biden let the Taliban come back and rule the war-torn country, leaving behind American weapons and a military base. Because of his sanctions, women and children are the most impacted. And 14 servicemen and women died as America left.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Two months later, America ignored President Putin's warnings and signed a security agreement with Ukraine, triggering a war that has consumed the world for much of Biden's presidency. America has committed to pouring over $175 billion, but there is not much to show. According to the Harvard Kennedy School's Russia-Ukraine War Report Card in December 2023, Russia occupied about 20% of Ukraine, nearly 9,000 square miles more than before the Feb 2022 invasion. The BBC says that Russian forces have made advances north and northeast of Kharkiv, the second-biggest city in Ukraine, occupying even more territory.

Nearly seven million refugees from Ukraine have resettled globally, the largest migration since World War II. China and Russia have drawn closer, hosting joint military exercises with friendly nations. Putin is firmly in power, having ‘won’ reelection. Meanwhile, President Zelenskyy's term expired on May 19, and he is continuing in office only because of martial law, used for state emergencies. Despite the stringent sanctions that Biden has led, Russia has overtaken Japan to become the world's fourth-largest economy in terms of Purchasing Power Parity. Germany and the United Kingdom are in a recession.

Biden’s terrible leadership in Israel has led to global protests and divisions within his party. The Middle East, which enjoyed camaraderie under Trump following the Abraham Accords, is so fractured that all the players have no clue how to help resolve the impasse. Back home, for all the talk about upholding values and democracy, Biden has led a well-planned effort to imprison and incapacitate his political rival, as authoritarian regimes do. Illegal immigration is so rampant that Biden is now resorting to executive orders to stem the tide. Recall that Biden's reversal of Trump-era orders caused this mess. Meanwhile, Americans' economic confidence dims, as Americans report being gripped by intense financial stress because of persistently stubborn inflation, wages not keeping pace, extraordinarily high rents, and labor market troubles.

Americans' appraisal of Biden's performance: D+.

Greek mythology talks about Midas and his golden touch. Everything Biden touches turns into a problem. With Biden's appalling and horrifying record and a confused public presence only held together by teleprompters, leaked advanced questions, and eager aides, Biden faces an anti-incumbency tsunami. If his team doesn't believe us, they should call their counterparts in New Delhi and Pretoria.

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