early and often

Biden’s Job-Approval Numbers Are (Slowly) Climbing

Happy Joe is making more regular appearances these days. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

While recent political developments have cheered Democrats immensely, there’s one factor putting a damper on their hopes for the midterms: President Biden’s popularity. Biden’s job-approval ratings have remained stubbornly underwater, a data point that historically has been inconsistent with a powerful midterm performance by any president’s party.

But now, as slowly as a balky donkey hauling a heavy load up a hill, Biden’s numbers are finally improving. In the RealClearPolitics averages, he hit bottom at 36.8 percent on July 20. Now he’s at 41.8 percent. A five-point improvement in popularity in just over a month is definitely a trend. His disapproval rating has come down exactly half as much at the same time in the same averages; it was at 57.5 percent on July 20 and is at 55 percent today. This reinforces the general impression that people who voted for Biden in 2020 are beginning to love him, or at least like him, again.

At a point when some left-of-center observers are beginning to allow themselves to imagine an actual Democratic midterm win, how popular does Biden need to become to make this possible? On the two occasions since 1934 when a president’s party gained House seats in a midterm (in 1998 and 2002), the president’s job-approval rating was over 60 percent. On another occasion when the president’s party only lost four House seats (in 1962), the president’s job-approval rating was also over 60 percent. The best performance by the party of a president with sub-60 approval ratings was in 1990, when George H.W. Bush was at 57 percent and Republicans still lost eight House seats. Perhaps the most encouraging precedent was in 2014, when Barack Obama was almost exactly where Biden is today and Democrats only lost 13 House seats (though they also lost nine Senate seats).

Maybe this midterm will break the mold and show that party performance has become decoupled from presidential popularity. That would almost certainly mean voters went to the polls determined to do something other than render judgement on the White House — perhaps rendering judgment on the U.S. Supreme Court that is taking away abortion rights, Republican extremism, or Donald Trump’s potential return.

Democrats should hope that this is just the beginning of an upturn in Biden’s job-approval ratings. Another five-point improvement would put him at close to 47 percent. And still another one would officially make him a popular president again for the first time since almost precisely a year ago. If that happens the donkey might very well kick and bray in joy when November 8 arrives.

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Biden’s Job-Approval Numbers Are (Slowly) Climbing