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Biden’s dismal poll numbers, explained in 9 charts

Much of it comes down to dissatisfaction with the economy.

President Biden Commemorates Passage Of The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act
President Joe Biden speaks at the White House about the passage of gun violence legislation, on July 11.
Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

In recent months, Democrats have been increasingly concerned about President Joe Biden’s low approval rating, fearing it will hurt their party in the 2022 midterms.

As of mid-July, survey after survey has shown his approval ratings floundering amid dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy and ongoing concerns about inflation and gas prices. To top it off, a poll from the New York Times and Siena College found that just 26 percent of Democrats thought he should be renominated in two years, while 64 percent would be open to someone else.

The backlash that Biden is experiencing isn’t entirely unusual: Most presidents see some loss of support within their first two years. His approval ratings have fallen lower than those of his recent predecessors at the same point in their presidency, however, fueling worries that Biden’s unpopularity could weigh down Democrats this fall.

Here are nine charts that explain just how bad things are for Biden, and how bad they could be for his party.

There have been growing Democratic concerns about the president’s approval rating

According to the Ipsos presidential approval tracker, Biden’s approval rating has steadily declined since the start of his presidency.

In Ipsos’s most recent survey, Biden’s overall approval was at 39 percent, including 74 percent among Democrats, 31 percent among independents, and 12 percent among Republicans. That’s a notable dip across the board compared to the start of his presidency, when he was at 55 percent overall, 91 percent among Democrats, 47 percent among independents, and 21 percent among Republicans.

Other July polls have echoed these findings: The Times/Siena poll had his approval at 33 percent, a CNBC poll had it at 36 percent, and an Economist/YouGov poll had it at 37 percent. Overall, FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregator shows Biden’s approval currently sitting at 38 percent.

Issues including rising living costs are among the contributors to negative perceptions of Biden, even though other economic indicators, like the unemployment rate, have been strong.

In a recent bright spot, Biden did see a small bump among both Democrats and independents in the latest Ipsos poll. Compared to a survey the firm conducted in early July, Biden saw his approval go up 5 percentage points and 7 percentage points, respectively, among both groups. Reuters’ Jason Lange noted that a strong jobs report on July 8 — showing a steady 3.6 percent unemployment rate and the addition of hundreds of thousands of new jobs — may have contributed to this boost.

While Biden’s approval ratings among some Democrats have inched up, he’s still not on safe ground with many members of his party. The Times/Siena survey found that those who favor another presidential nominee cited age and job performance among their top reasons for doing so. And the Ipsos data also shows slight fluctuations in Biden’s support across the last few months, suggesting that it’s too soon to know whether recent gains will be enduring ones.

It’s not uncommon for presidents to see a slight decline in their approval ratings after the initial “honeymoon phase” wears off.

Trump saw a slight dip in support after the start of his presidency, while Obama saw a larger one. About a year and half into their presidencies, multiple recent presidents have experienced such decreases. Trump’s went from 44 percent at the start of his presidency to 42 percent, Obama’s went from 65 percent to 46 percent, and Clinton’s went from 54 percent to 45 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregator. George W. Bush, meanwhile, saw an increase in his approval rating from 54 percent to 68 percent, driven by public support of his presidency following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

These declines are typically tied to the public’s expectations, with people more likely to be optimistic about a president when they first take office, and more disappointed about them later on if they aren’t able to follow through on what they’ve promised. Notably, the decline in Trump’s approval rating was smaller because he was already relatively unpopular to begin with.

Biden’s approval rating, however, has gone from 53 percent to 38 percent in that same time frame, according to the FiveThirtyEight tracker, dipping lower than those of his recent predecessors, and suggesting that he’s facing a higher degree of disapproval than they were. Biden is also navigating significantly different circumstances than recent presidents experienced in their first two years. He’s had to combat a pandemic, address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and deal with supply chain issues resulting from Covid-19.

That’s a worthwhile caveat to keep in mind for direct comparisons. But it’s nevertheless notable — and alarming to Democrats — that he has the lowest pre-midterms approval rating of any of the last five presidents.

The NYT/Siena poll showing Biden’s lackluster Democratic support is among several that highlight the lack of current enthusiasm for his 2024 presidential candidacy. When asked if Biden should run again, 35 percent of Democrats in a July Yahoo/YouGov poll said that he should, while 41 percent said he should not. Another Morning Consult/Politico poll found slightly more positive results among registered voters, with a slim majority, 51 percent, of Democrats saying Biden ought to run again, though only 26 percent of Democrats said he definitely should.

Since he’s now 79 and was the oldest president to be sworn into office, some Democrats wondered whether he would step down after his first term. In June, however, the White House reiterated that the president intends to run again in 2024.

Thus far, Biden is still coming out on top in polls against other Democratic candidates. He garnered more support than Vice President Kamala Harris and California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a June poll, though more than a third of voters were still unsure who they would support. And Biden’s favorability remains higher than other major figures in his party including Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, according to a RealClearPolitics polling aggregation.

Biden’s low numbers are driven by concerns about the direction the country and economy are headed

Much of the dissatisfaction with Biden seems to be driven by similarly growing dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.

That sentiment has been increasing since June 2021, as the pandemic has continued to stretch on and the US has faced supply chain issues and a spike in gas prices tied to the war in Ukraine.

While Biden inherited many of those problems, and there are limited short-term policy solutions for some of them, voters appear to be putting the onus on him and the Democrats, since they’re the party in power.

As Biden faces widespread pressure on inflation and the economy, he’s also gotten pushback from a segment of Democrats who don’t believe he’s done enough on issues like climate, student loans, and abortion rights. According to a Yahoo/YouGov survey, 63 percent of Democrats approved of his handling of climate issues in July, a decline from 70 percent five months ago.

Sentiment toward Biden’s handling of the economy has been particularly negative of late, with just 30 percent of Americans approving of his approach in one July CNBC poll. The poll also found that 51 percent of Americans believed Biden’s policies on inflation weren’t making a difference, and 30 percent believed they were hurting the economy.

Similarly, in an ABC News/Ipsos June poll, only 37 percent of Americans approved of Biden’s handling of the economic recovery, while 28 percent approved of his handling of inflation, and 27 percent approved of his handling of gas prices.

His overall approval rating appears tied to consumers’ perceptions of the economy, a dynamic in line with historic trends, even though recent presidents have bucked this pattern.

During both the Obama and Trump administrations, there wasn’t a strong connection between consumer sentiment and the president’s popularity. For example, Trump had high consumer sentiment for much of his term, but also had lower approval ratings, John Sides and Robert Griffin write for the Washington Post.

Biden’s presidency, however, seems to be returning to the longstanding expectations people had about support for the commander in chief and the state of the economy.

“The relationship is clear: Biden’s approval rating is lower now that consumer sentiment has dropped,” Sides and Griffin write. “The size of that relationship … is almost identical to the relationship that existed from 1961 to 2008.”

While Biden gets dinged on the economy, he has stronger approval ratings on things like his approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, though even that has declined since the start of his administration, likely because of how enduring the coronavirus continues to be. In the last eight months, however, his approval ratings on Covid-19 have stayed steady while his approval ratings on the economy have declined.

Additionally, major legislation Biden has championed has been popular — the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure bill both had solid public support — though some have soured on the former as inflation has increased and been tied to it.

This dynamic speaks to an awkward situation that Biden finds himself in. Although he’s gotten high marks on some of the issues he can influence through policy, many of the problems voters are upset about are ones with no quick fixes.

What Biden’s ratings mean for Democrats in the midterms

There are short-term and long-term implications of Biden’s poor approval ratings. If they continue, they could bode poorly for his candidacy in 2024. More immediately, they portend a tough set of midterm elections for Democrats.

Andrew Prokop/Vox

As Vox’s Andrew Prokop has explained, the president’s party already typically faces an electoral backlash, one that appears to be worse when the president has a lower approval rating. As past data shows, the only two times that the president’s party either didn’t lose House seats or managed to limit their losses in the midterms were when George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had high approval ratings.

It’s possible, but unlikely, that Democrats could defy these historical trends and hang onto the House. And it’s also possible Biden will be able to turn these perceptions around in the next few years. If inflation goes down, that would likely help him.

As Dan Balz recently noted in the Washington Post, there are also some signs that support for congressional Democrats could outweigh Biden’s bad polls, though that may not be sufficient to overcome the headwinds the party is facing.

Biden versus Trump?

Biden has edged out Trump in some — but not all — recent polls: more registered voters picked him in a match-up against the former president in polling conducted by Yahoo/YouGov in July. That same dynamic was true in the NYT/Siena poll, which found Biden with 44 percent support and Trump with 41 percent. As RealClearPolitics’ polling aggregator shows, however, other June and July surveys, including from Harvard/Harris and Emerson, have found the opposite result with Trump leading Biden.

The results of the last election could speak to the potential outcome in a direct contest as well: In 2020, Biden won with 51.3 percent of the popular vote, to Trump’s 46.9 percent, winning 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. Biden has emphasized, too, that he would “not be disappointed” by a Trump rematch.

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