AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
As President Biden stares down the barrel of yet another possible disaster scenario in the Ukraine, things just keep seeming to go from bad to worse for the beleaguered administration. With all the chaos and discontent spreading throughout the country and the world, it’s no surprise that Biden and his party have been on the receiving end of some very, very bad polling news. But with all the numbers and data swirling around from dozens of polling agencies and news outlets, it’s helpful to take a step back to see the full picture of where Biden and Democrats stand with the public today. That picture is a decidedly grim one and, if history is any guide, may get much worse in the months ahead.
Much of the discussion about Biden’s dreadful poll numbers has focused on his ever-slipping approval rating. The most recent Real Clear Politics average shows Biden’s approval at just 41.1%, down from 55% at the beginning of his term. Even more striking is the percentage of Americans who disapprove, which has risen from 36% to 55% in just over a year.
Some polls even found Biden’s approval rating to be as low as 33%, virtually unprecedented for a president this early in his term. For reference, the average Gallup approval rating of all presidents in January of their second year in office going back to 1938 is 53%. At this point in their presidencies, George H.W. Bush sat at 80% approval, Bill Clinton at 55%, George W. Bush at 84%, Barack Obama at 49%, and even Donald Trump, who even left-wing media outlets now admit was far more popular than his polling indicated throughout his presidency, managed 38% approval. And while Trump had spent his first year as the focus of deranged conspiracy theories and unrelenting media hostility, Joe Biden has been the subject of the opposite: an almost unbroken campaign of media cheerleading, while many of Biden’s fiercest critics are literally censored.
Digging into the numbers, things get even worse for Biden. According to data from a recent NBC poll, Biden’s support has declined from 68% last April to 36% now among Independents, from 83% to 64% among Blacks, from 59% to 48% among Hispanics, from 61% to 51% among women, and from 56% to a shocking 40% among those aged 18 to 34. In short, Biden has lost major ground among every group in his electoral coalition.
It doesn’t look much better when you break things down by issue. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that more than half of registered voters now disapprove of Biden’s handling of the pandemic. Just 36% approve of his handling of the economy, while 54% disapprove. On immigration, those numbers are 33% and 56%, respectively. On foreign policy Biden sits at 38%-49% approve-disapprove, and he sits at 42%-55% on education. Even on climate change, a perennial “good” issue for Democrats, just 33% of registered voters said they approved of how he’s doing.
No matter how you spin it, Americans are not happy with their president. Another Politico/Morning Consult poll asking respondents to “grade” Biden’s performance one year in found that 37% of people would give the president an “F” (including 33% of independents) while just 11% overall and 24% of Democrats would give him an “A.” One CBS News/YouGov survey asked respondents to choose from a list of words describing how Biden’s first year has made them feel. 50% chose “frustrated,” 49% chose “disappointed,” and just 25% chose “satisfied.” By a 70%-28% margin, voters don’t want Biden to run for re-election – a figure that includes just 48% of Democrats. Similarly, just 28% of voters say they have a “great deal of confidence” that Biden can manage the White House, while half of registered voters disagree with the statement that “Joe Biden is in good health.”
It’s worth considering just how stark these numbers are. In our extremely polarized society, it’s hard for a president’s approval rating to fall much below 30%. Since Gallup first started tracking presidential approval ratings in 1939, the lowest the organization has recorded is 19% for George W. Bush in February of 2008 – right at the depth of the financial crisis. Even one-term presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush only bottomed out at 28% and 29%, respectively. In other words, Biden may already be close to as unpopular as a president can feasibly get.
But, Biden apologists might say, surely voters still think the current situation is far preferable to a second Trump term, right? Not so fast. In a hypothetical 2024 matchup, Trump currently leads Biden by five points (49%-44%). Trump also leads other potential Democratic nominees Hillary Clinton (51%-41%) and Kamala Harris (51%-40%).
With the midterm elections just around the corner, Congressional Democrats aren’t faring much better than the President. A recent poll from the Trafalgar Group has Republicans ahead of Democrats 55.7% to 42.2% on the generic ballot, with just 2.1% undecided. Notably, other polls have found much smaller margins for Republicans –Real Clear Politics has the average at 44.5%-42.1%.
But even these numbers should be alarming for Democrats hoping to retain their slim majorities in Congress this November. According to data from recent elections, Republicans tend to fare better in Congressional elections in terms of seats actually won than their national vote share would suggest In 2020, for example, the median U.S. House District was about 2.1 percentage points more Republican than the country as a whole. What this means in practice is that Democrats need to win the national House vote (for which the generic ballot is a reasonable proxy) by at least two points, and many poll watchers say it is more than that. Thus, Republicans have real reason to be optimistic, even in light of recent Democratic wins in redistricting fights and aggressive gerrymandering of blue states.
Biden’s approval rating also bodes ill for Democrats’ chances in the House this fall. In 2006, when President Bush’s approval-disapproval rating was a net -19.7, Republicans lost 30 House seats. In 2018, with Trump’s approval rating 11 points underwater, Republicans lost 40 seats. In the famous 2010 “shellacking,” Democrats lost 63 seats when Obama’s approval-disapproval was just net -4.3%. Today, Biden’s approval-disapproval rating stands at -14.
The story gets even worse for Democrats in the Senate, where a net loss of just one seat will hand Republicans control of the chamber. According to a model developed by Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics that has predicted the outcome of the Senate contest within one seat in each of the last four elections, a Republican-controlled Senate becomes the most likely scenario once Biden’s approval drops below 48%. At 42%, the model “envisions virtually no chance for Democrats to hold the Senate.”
But perhaps the most unnoticed alarm bell for Democrats long term is the drastic change in party identification. Over the course of 2021, Gallup found that number went from a nine-point Democratic advantage (fairly standard in most years) to a five-point Republican lead. That 14-point shift is the largest ever recorded and suggests that Americans don’t just disapprove of the job Democrats are doing–they’re abandoning the party en masse. Such an exodus raises the question of whether Americans aren’t just fed up with Biden himself, but the entire radical direction of the Democratic Party.
Given the overwhelming evidence that the public does not like the way things have been going, one might expect Biden and the Democrats to pivot back toward the center. But the President and his party appear wholly unwilling or unable to do so. As Biden put it quite bluntly in his press conference last week: “I don’t believe the polls.” If recent history is a guide, he’d be right not to—but for a different reason. He is, in all likelihood, much less popular than even his dismal numbers indicate.