New polls: Americans are souring on Democratic governance

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

If you read last night’s post about the buzzy new Quinnipiac poll on the generic ballot, you already knew that this was true.

But it’s always nice to have corroborating evidence that confirms a trend.

Gallup is out today with a new survey showing that voters now view the GOP as more likely to do a better job on issues related to security and prosperity. In fact, “[b]y 41% to 38%, U.S. adults say the Republican Party rather than the Democratic Party can better handle whichever problem they name (in an open-ended question format) as the most important facing the country.” Last year, Democrats led in that metric by eight points.

Republicans have led in recent years among voters on both security and prosperity. That’s not what makes Gallup’s results noteworthy. What’s noteworthy are the hard numbers.

That 15-point lead is the GOP’s biggest of the Trump era. Meanwhile, on the prosperity question, 50 percent of voters say Republicans are more capable than Democrats for the first time since 1989.

What’s driving these shifts? Again, you already know if you read last night’s post: Across numerous polls, independents are giving up on Joe Biden. That’s showing up in Gallup’s data too:

Since last year, there have been double-digit declines in the percentages of independents who say the Democratic Party is better at handling the most important problem (from 42% to 31%), at keeping the nation secure (from 43% to 31%) and at keeping the nation prosperous (from 47% to 35%).

Today’s other newsy poll comes from Morning Consult, which asked Americans whether Biden and his party have achieved more than they expected before they took power, less than expected, or about the same. Bad trend lines here too:

In June 59 percent of independents thought Biden had met, if not exceeded, expectations. Four months later, that’s down to 41 percent, with the share who say he hasn’t met expectations having *doubled* in just four months. The decline is affecting Democrats’ ratings too, according to Morning Consult. Biden is down to 45/52 on approval and the Democratic lead on the generic ballot has dipped to one point, down three in just a month.

What’s going on here? Are the Dems sunk for the midterms?

They can look at the Gallup and Morning Consult data and tell themselves a story that not only aren’t they sunk, they’re on the brink of a comeback. Surely some share of the Democrats and independents who believe Biden hasn’t met expectations will change their minds once the infrastructure package passes Congress. And if experts like Scott Gottlieb are right that we’re in the last major wave of COVID, the decline of the virus next year will lead more people to believe he’s at least met expectations in containing the virus.

But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that we’re now six weeks removed from the withdrawal fiasco in Afghanistan and Biden’s job approval still hasn’t rebounded. Nathaniel Rakich of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site wrote about that today, pointing out that public disgust at the evacuation debacle was cracked up to be the biggest driver of dissatisfaction with his job performance. In that case, Rakich argues, we should have seen Biden’s numbers rebound as news coverage of Afghanistan faded. We didn’t:

RCP’s poll average looks similar. Biden’s been above 46 percent only briefly over the past five weeks even as reporting on Afghanistan has slipped off the front page. Consider that strong evidence that Biden’s decline was never really all that much about Afghanistan, Rakich writes:

This is consistent with the argument that the decline in Biden’s approval rating was never just about Afghanistan. The timing of it suggested it was also driven by the resurgent pandemic, dissatisfaction with the economy, or even natural post-honeymoon reversion to a mean that is more realistic in these polarized times. In other words, a myriad of factors.

Accordingly, there may be no easy fix for Biden. Even an improvement in the COVID-19 situation may not improve his political fortunes: According to data compiled by The New York Times, the rolling average of newly detected COVID-19 cases nationally has decreased since mid-September, but Biden’s average approval rating on the issue of the coronavirus has remained steady. (As of Oct. 5,1 50.5 percent of Americans approved of his handling of the pandemic, and 40.7 percent disapproved.)

As things stand, his job approval is lower at this point than every president since 1945 save two. (One of whom was Trump.) The fact that he’s not rebounding despite COVID and Afghanistan receding suggests that the twin crises of August altered the public’s view of him in a deeper way than expected, probably having to do with his basic competence. When you get elected promising to restore “adult” leadership to Washington and then end up being blindsided by the Taliban takeover and flailing about for ways to contain Delta, voters who trusted that you knew what you’re doing are destined to be disillusioned. The feeling among swing voters that they’re in old but experienced hands may be gone for good. Now those hands just seem old and shaky.

Update: Quinnipiac has released more data from the same poll that produced yesterday’s newsy numbers about the generic ballot. What was I just saying about basic competence?

Biden’s at 38/53 on job approval here. On handling the border, he’s at … 23/67. Hoo boy.

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