For President Biden and his party, the appointment of a special counsel on Friday in the investigation into Hunter Biden was hardly a welcome development. A blossoming criminal inquiry focused on the president’s son is a high-risk proposition that comes with the dangers of an election-year trial and investigations that could balloon beyond the tax and gun charges the younger Mr. Biden already faces.
Yet many Democrats were sanguine about a dark moment in a summer of cautiously bright news for their president. In interviews, more than a dozen Democratic officials, operatives and pollsters said Hunter Biden’s legal problems were less worrisome than their other concerns about the president: his age, his low approval ratings and Americans’ lack of confidence in an improving economy.
Part of their sense of calm stems from a version of the what-aboutism often adopted by Republicans since Donald J. Trump’s rise: Mr. Biden’s son is under investigation, Democrats say, but across the aisle, the G.O.P. front-runner has actually been criminally indicted — three times.
“I find it hard to imagine that anyone concerned about political corruption would turn to Donald Trump to address the problem of political corruption,” said Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating Hunter Biden since Republicans took control of the chamber.
Democrats cited an array of reasons for whistling past the announcement that David C. Weiss, the Delaware prosecutor first appointed by the Trump administration in 2018 to investigate Hunter Biden, would be elevated to a special counsel. Mr. Weiss has examined both Mr. Biden’s business and personal life, including his foreign dealings, his drug use and his finances; a deal to plead guilty to two tax misdemeanors and accept a diversion program to dismiss an unlawful gun possession charge has fallen apart.
Polling, Democrats noted, has suggested that swing voters aren’t attuned to the various Hunter Biden controversies. Recent elections, including the Ohio referendum this past week, have shown that the abortion rights issue is powering Democratic victories. And Democrats believe ne’er-do-well family members do not cause transitive harm to relatives who are running for president.
“There are plenty of things that keep Democrats up at night when it comes to 2024, and this is not one of them,” said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic organization. “Billy Carter is not the reason that Ronald Reagan won 49 states in 1980.”
Just as they did after Mr. Trump’s three indictments, the White House, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee on Friday appeared to undertake a collective vow of silence about the special counsel’s appointment. Far more of the president’s allies declined to discuss the Hunter Biden news — or would do so only carefully off the record — than were willing to talk about the situation openly.
The Biden campaign canceled a scheduled Friday afternoon appearance on MSNBC for its campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, after the special counsel announcement to avoid facing a litany of questions about the president’s son, according to two people familiar with the scheduling.
The White House, and more recently the Biden campaign, have long treaded carefully around questions about the president’s son. Matt Barreto, who conducts polling for Mr. Biden, said Hunter Biden had not been a concern in focus groups.
“I haven’t seen polling, and I have not been asked to do polling, on that,” Mr. Barreto said about the younger Mr. Biden’s travails. “Americans are totally focused right now on who is going to improve their economic output.”
In late June, a poll from Reuters/Ipsos found that 58 percent of Americans said Hunter Biden’s proposed plea agreement would have no impact on the likelihood of their voting for the elder Mr. Biden in 2024. The survey found that 51 percent of Americans believed Hunter Biden’s legal troubles were unrelated to President Biden’s job performance.
How much a trial of Hunter Biden would damage his father’s presidential campaign is unclear, given that Mr. Trump — the 2024 Republican presidential front-runner — is already facing three potential trials and the prospect of another indictment in Georgia. Court proceedings that implicated the elder Mr. Biden or required his testimony would serve as a major distraction for his campaign, but there has not been any legitimate suggestion that he engaged in wrongdoing himself.
Sarah Longwell, a Republican consultant who conducts regular focus groups, said that voters who had supported Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2020 often brought up Hunter Biden on their own in response to questions about Mr. Trump’s indictments. But swing voters, or those who cast ballots for Mr. Trump the first time but not the second, had more empathy, she said, and tended to say that concerns about Hunter Biden did not apply to the president.
“The dominant position of swing voters has been, the Hunter Biden stuff is family, personal,” Ms. Longwell said. “We asked a swing-voting group about Hunter, and they were saying things like, ‘Every family has someone like this, a black sheep.’”
The lonely Democratic voice warning that the Hunter Biden question will hurt Mr. Biden and Democrats at the polls next November is Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who in recent weeks has been on a media tour calling for an intraparty challenge to Mr. Biden.
Mr. Phillips said the special counsel news was “exactly my entire rationale for the call to action” for a Biden challenger. Mr. Biden isn’t corrupt, Mr. Phillips said, but he added that the facts of the case mattered far less than the nuggets of information people received about it.
“It’s not about the truth, it’s not about the facts — it’s about how people feel, and people feel concerned,” Mr. Phillips said. “It’s gone from a distraction and ridiculous to ‘Oh wow, maybe something is there.’”
Most Democrats, however, are convinced that voters are more focused on other things.
“I haven’t gotten one call about this other than from reporters,” said Donna Brazile, a former Democratic National Committee chairwoman. “There’s nothing that I believe is going to change the conversation.”
For others, knowing that Mr. Biden has already defeated Mr. Trump once serves as a salve against concerns that Hunter Biden could derail the 2024 campaign. Much of the stress that was on constant display after Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton has dissipated following the party’s successes in the last three national elections.
“I just don’t see the source of anxiety that this might have caused a few years ago,” said Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia.