Here’s why Biden’s approval rating has fallen to record lows

Biden risks losing his base as the center abandons him

<p>President Joe Biden </p>

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden woke up this weekend to another entry in a long line of bad headlines about his polling woes; the 46th president now sits at his lowest job performance rating since taking office in a new NBC News poll.

The poll by itself was unremarkable, showing Mr Biden with the support of four in ten Americans, but added to the avalanche of similar headlines and a trend appears that could have Democrats in a severe bind heading in to the 2022 midterms.

With the administration’s ratings slump continuing through March with no signs of abating, it’s worth asking how the administration got here, what’s next, and why it’s so hard for them to get out.

What does the latest poll tell us?

Simply put, it’s more of the same bad news for the White House. Mr Biden’s approval rating is at 40 per cent, while 55 per cent disapprove of his performance. That 15-point gap is as pronounced as it’s ever been, with just 5 per cent undecided.

As usual, the key findings are not in Mr Biden’s overall rating itself, but instead in the demographic breakdown that reveals fractures growing among the coalition that elected the president in 2020. The president’s approval ratings are slipping with Black voters, Latino voters, and independents. While his rating among independents only fell by a few points, the president now only has the support of about one-third of unaffiliated voters.

That spells a two-pronged issue for Mr Biden. He’s losing ground with his base, the bedrock of the Democratic Party (voters of colour, women, immigrants and younger voters) that swept him to victory past Donald Trump in 2020. But crucially, he’s also losing favour with swing voters who are far more likely than members of his traditional support base to defect and cast a Republican ballot in the midterms.

Why is it so bad for Joe Biden?

While he personally isn’t on the ballot this year, the president’s approval rating is often seen as a guide suggesting how his party will fare in off-year elections. 2022 is one of those years, meaning that some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are desperate to turn things around for the president in districts where Mr Biden’s agenda is popular.

Right now, the main problem for Mr Biden has been his party on Capitol Hill; the president’s battles with Congress are seen as the top issue holding down his approval rating following a bruising first year in office which saw major legislative defeats for the White House. Two centrist Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, were largely responsible for the tanking of both Mr Biden’s signature “Build Back Better” agenda as well as a grassroots push for voting rights legislation, an issue that has been labeled by civil rights leaders as imperative to protect voting in majority-Black communities across the South and in other GOP-dominated areas where officials are cracking down on mail-in voting, closing precincts, scrubbing voter lists, and passing other provisions aimed at damaging chances for Democrats at the polls.

The failure of the White House to even wrangle Mr Biden’s own party into line is coupled with his near-total inability to get any GOP support in the Senate for his proposals. This would have been expected, had Mr Biden not personally pledged to unify the country following four years of a Donald Trump presidency and even expressed the belief that Mr Trump’s hold over the GOP (and the gridlock in the Senate, which preceded him) would abate with his defeat.

As of the end of March, Mr Biden will now have gone several months without a legislative victory and there appears to be no hope of resurrecting either a voting rights bill or Build Back Better in the days ahead. That’s no good for a party trying to convince voters of the importance of protecting its majorities in Congress.

Can Biden win back support before the midterms?

Unclear. There are basically two avenues for him to do this: break through the gridlock in the Senate, including his own party’s inability to reach a compromise on legislation that has been in the works for almost a year, or win back the American public’s favour some other way. Some pollsters had expected Mr Biden to receive a support bump unrelated to his Washington DC struggles as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, given that Mr Biden has largely taken the position of majorities of the US public to aid Ukraine militarily while not engaging in war directly.

But that polling bump has not occurred, thanks to many Americans viewing the conflict as far from home and not involving the US. There’s also the potential for Americans to be confused about the president’s policies; wide majorities support bans on Russian energy imports, but at the same time the administration faces fire from political enemies over rising gas prices and inflation, both of which the White House have linked to Russia’s invasion.

The best chance that the president has to increase his support among Americans now is working with Capitol Hill to achieve a tangible legislative win before the midterms; there are plenty of issues the White House could address, from climate to inflation to student loans, but it’s unclear whether the president’s team will find it in them to organise another effort to push for the passage of parts of the president’s agenda.

Perhaps most damaging to Mr Biden’s chances for the rest of the year is apathy. The potential for either Democrats in Congress or the White House itself to be apathetic about pushing for further progress on the president’s agenda is high, given the defeats of Democrats in past few months, and many could find it politically more convenient to stay out of the limelight through November.

That strategy could work for some this fall but it’s becoming more and more clear that Democrats need to be in control of the narrative surrounding their White House and congressional majorities heading in to the midterms if they are to have any shot of preserving them.

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