Wait, is Biden's job approval rebounding (a little)?

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Tom Bevan of RCP flagged some improvement in Biden’s numbers a few days ago but I dismissed it. To me, it looked like his approval rating in the polling average had inched up due to one outlier-ish poll. The perception of movement was an illusion.

But maybe it wasn’t. Several new polls have dropped since then with numbers a bit higher than the 41-43 percent rating he’s been pulling since October. Reuters has him at 48/48. CNN also has him at 48 percent (48/52). A Morning Consult poll placed him at 46/51 and the new poll from Fox News sees him at 47/51. A fifth poll from Echelon Insights that isn’t included in the RCP average tags Biden at 48/51.

None of those ratings are the sort of thing Democrats would want to slap on a billboard but there’s a bit of a rebound there. And if you look at RCP’s average, the trend is obvious:

He bottomed out at 41.3 percent approval in late November but has crept back up to 44 percent lately for the first time since early October. His disapproval hadn’t been as low as 50 percent since the same timeframe but it touched 50.0 exactly a few days ago. There does appear to be real movement here — implausibly, given that inflation continues to look gory.

A check of FiveThirtyEight’s average reveals that they’re seeing a rebound too, albeit smaller than RCP’s:

Biden hadn’t been as high as 43.8 percent approval since late October but he reached it yesterday. And his disapproval rating hasn’t been as low as it is now since early November.

Forget that his overall numbers remain dismal and focus on the trend. With a new variant about to crash down on the U.S., inflation still rising, and Americans unhappy about, well, everything, how are his numbers trending upward? It seems inexplicable.

But there’s one thing that might explain it.

Remember this post from last month? Data for Progress, a lefty polling outfit, decided to compare Biden’s approval rating to gas prices in the United States. What they found was an intriguing correlation that remained consistent across months apart from the few weeks in August when Biden took a heavy hit from the Afghanistan withdrawal fiasco:

Overall inflation continues to rise in the U.S. but there’s been a notable exception to that general trend lately. Care to guess what it is?

Note the Y-axis. That’s a modest decline, but then the increase in Biden’s approval is also modest. And maybe it’s less the magnitude of the decline that voters are reacting to than the fact that there’s a decline at all. If people are noticing that gas prices are going down instead of up — for five weeks in a row — they might be feeling more optimistic lately about next year’s economic outlook. Few expenses hit Americans in the wallet as directly as more expensive gas; in that sense, it adds up that gas prices might correlate unusually strongly with the public mood about America’s national leadership. Gas prices have bounced lower so the president has bounced higher.

Does that augur a broader Democratic rebound next year? Eh, probably not.

The big takeaway: While U.S. government forecasts predict both oil and gas prices will see a decline in 2022, many private sector forecasts show the opposite occurring.

When it comes to domestically produced crude, Barclays predicts that the WTI contract price will increase from the current rate of $69.62 to an average price of $77 in 2022. The bank says the Biden administration’s recent release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve isn’t a sustainable way to bring down prices, and the dip we’ve seen in recent weeks “would only be temporary.” Prices could go even higher than forecast, the bank says, if COVID-19 outbreaks are minimized and thus allow demand to grow by more than expected. Simply put: If the pandemic winds down next year, that could put more upward pressure on prices.

Quite a pickle for POTUS and his party. If they defeat COVID, they’ll unleash a wave of demand — and potentially cause gas prices to spike. If they don’t defeat COVID, gas prices might remain low … but, uh, COVID would still be raging. The man who promised during the campaign to shut down the virus would be halfway through his term without having shut down the virus.

In fact, I wonder if lower gas prices over the last two weeks is partly due to slackening demand as the risk-averse begin canceling activities outside the home due to Omicron. If gas prices drop steeply this winter because half the country is afraid to go out due to exploding cases, that’s not a political victory for Sleepy Joe.

I’ll leave you with this from Echelon. The Biden rebound is small but it seems real.