early and often

Biden Job-Approval Numbers Continue to Slide Down

Joe Biden is only lovable to those who already love him. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

About every other week, you’ll see a headline somewhere in which someone flogging an individual poll will dramatically announce that Joe Biden’s job-approval rating has reached an all-time low! Jaded political-news consumers like me will invariably tell the Chicken Littles alarmed or excited by such “news” that they should watch the polling averages instead of overreacting to random polls that could be outliers.

That’s why I feel duty bound to report that the polling averages for Joe Biden’s job-performance evaluation are definitely trending downward, ever so slowly. At the best-known source for polling averages, RealClearPolitics, Biden’s number has dipped below 40 percent (to 39.6 percent) for just the second time ever, marginally lower than the 39.8 percent it briefly registered in February. Biden’s job-approval average is still slightly above 40 percent at FiveThirtyEight, which uses a different mix of polls and weights the results for credibility and partisan bias. But at 40.2 percent, it’s also the lowest of the Biden administration.

For Biden himself, this doesn’t particularly matter 30 months before he will presumably face voters in a campaign for reelection. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and yes, Ronald Reagan all hit job-approval numbers lower than Biden’s today (per Gallup) in their first terms and all three were reelected. For that matter, of all the presidents dating back to the end of World War II, only Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy failed to register a Gallup job-approval rating below 40 percent. Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump’s average job-approval rating per Gallup was 41 percent, barely below Biden’s present slough.

But it matters because of the high correlation between presidential job-approval ratings and the midterm performance of the president’s party. Dating back to 1934, only two presidents (Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002) managed to gain House seats in a midterm election. Both had Gallup job-approval ratings over 65 percent going into those midterms. Yes, some president’s had meh job-approval ratings and experienced relatively minor midterm congressional losses (e.g., Jimmy Carter in 1978 and Ronald Reagan in 1982). But Biden’s Democrats have no cushion given their five-seat House majority and the 50-50 Senate. They need a lift from the president, not a millstone.

That’s why the White House hopes that some dramatic external development like a Russian collapse in its Ukraine war, or a backlash to chronic gun violence, or a Supreme Court abolition of abortion rights could change the midterm dynamics. For all the vilification aimed at Biden by conservatives, and all the disappointment many progressives feel toward his presidency, his fortunes are inextricably linked to those of the Democratic Party. Uncle Joe needs to recapture some popularity in order to keep the rest of his first term from becoming a frustrating example of the limits of presidential power.

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Biden’s Job-Approval Numbers Continue to Slide Down