The last two U.S. presidential elections have featured substantial polling misses that overestimated support for Democratic candidates. If support for President Joe Biden is being overcounted headed into the 2022 midterms, things may go from bad to catastrophic for Democrats.
Biden began his presidency with a cushy honeymoon period that saw approval ratings north of 55%. It’s hard to fathom any politician in today’s divided environment being able to maintain a plus-20-point net approval among all Americans, but that’s what Biden was able to do early on.
Then, as his administration began to actually govern, the slide began. His average approval fell from almost 54% on June 1, to 52% on July 1, to 46.7% on Sep. 1, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average. Now, he sits with a net approval of negative 4.7%, according to FiveThirtyEight. RealClearPolitics (RCP) has him even deeper underwater, at negative 9.3 points. (RELATED: ‘Not Good’: CNN Calls Out Biden’s Tanking Approval Ratings)
Anyone who has paid attention to politics this year has noticed this downward trend, and that must include the officials inside the Biden administration itself. They have been hesitant to acknowledge it, though, and when they do, it typically comes with a quick deflection to events out of their control, such as COVID-19 or supply chain clogs.
“We don’t get too glum around here, even if things get challenging,” Psaki says regarding issues facing the White House, from division over Biden’s agenda, skyrocketing gas prices, poll numbers declining. Biden was elected to get his agenda passed & unite his party, she says.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) October 12, 2021
Back in August, Biden said he hadn’t seen a new poll that found a majority of Americans don’t see him as competent or effective. When asked this month what she made of Biden’s terrible poll numbers, White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded that not enough people were getting vaccinated and implied that the chief problem dragging down the administration was the Delta variant surge of COVID-19.
The data doesn’t support that, though. COVID-19 cases and deaths have been sharply declining since mid-September, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, but Biden’s approval rating hasn’t ticked upward during that time period. RCP has his popularity declining by another couple of points in the last month.
Biden’s net approval broke into the negative right around the end of August, almost to the day that he gave a rocky press conference after 13 American troops were killed in Afghanistan. The rapid decline of his polling numbers coincided with the disastrous pullout from Afghanistan just as much, if not more so, as it did with the Delta variant surge of COVID-19. At one point, even 42% of Democrats blamed Biden directly for the botched withdrawal, in addition to three out of every four independents.
In new Quinnipiac poll, President Biden’s approval rating drops to 38%, the lowest of his presidency, and his lowest marks come at the border.
23% approve of Biden’s handling of the border.
25% approve of Biden’s handling of immigration issues.
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) October 7, 2021
The poor numbers for Biden also aren’t exclusive to his handling of the pandemic. His approval rating is at 40% or less on the economy, immigration, foreign policy and national security, according to the latest tracking poll from Politico/Morning Consult.
As for 2022, it would benefit the Biden administration and Democrats more broadly if the polls are accurate. An approval rating in the low-to-mid 40s for the leader of the party will almost certainly lead to heavy losses in 2022, if history is any indication. (RELATED: PATEL: The American People Are Rejecting A President Too Weak To Take On The Radicals In His Own Party)
In America’s most recent midterm election, President Donald Trump’s approval rating sat at 40%, with 54% disapproving, in the final days before voters went to the polls, according to Gallup. In the Senate, the GOP benefitted from a favorable map with Democrats defending seats in states like Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri, and gained two seats in the chamber. But in the House of Representatives, Republicans lost the nationwide vote by almost nine points and dropped 41 seats. At the gubernatorial level, Democrats gained seven of 39 contested seats.
If pollsters are once again underestimating Republicans, say by about the four percent they did in 2020, things will be even worse for Democrats. It could look something more like former President Barack Obama’s first midterm in 2010, in which Democrats lost 63 house seats and six Senate seats.
It doesn’t help that Biden is bleeding support among some of his party’s most crucial constituencies. Particularly among Latino voters, Biden’s approval has tanked from typically high Democrat levels as the crisis at the southern border has dragged on month after month with no end in sight. (RELATED: Poll: 1 In 5 Democrats, Likely Voters Regret Voting For Joe Biden)
There is plenty of time for Biden to turn things around, of course. One year from now, COVID-19 could be under control, supply chains could clear up, his administration could decide to start enforcing border control and inflation could slow down.
It could also get worse. His infrastructure program appears to be on the verge of death every day in Congress as the Progressive Caucus battles it out with Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and Republicans may become more enthused as the 2024 presidential field begins to take shape.
Even with improved polling numbers, or accurate numbers that don’t overcount Democrats, for now, Biden’s party faces an uphill climb. Parties that control Washington rarely perform well in midterms regardless of how good or bad a job they are doing. The Democrats only have to lose 5 seats to hand Republicans a majority in the House, and they are clinging onto a 50-50 split in the Senate broken only by Vice President Kamala Harris. Democratic voter registration is down in some key swing states, and Republicans hold a significant redistricting advantage due to their success in state-level elections in recent years.
If the current poll numbers are accurate, Biden will almost certainly lose his Congressional majorities, and thus his ability to pass major legislation for the remainder of his first term in the White House. If the polls are off again, he could be facing a 2010-level wipeout.
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