It started so well, Gallup notes, but it’s ending tears and recrimination. Despite having a decent year-long approval rating of almost 49% in his first year, Joe Biden has stumbled to a job approval rating that’s almost identical to that of his predecessor. And the context for those numbers is worth considering:
Gallup: Joe Biden's job approval drops eight net points, falling to 40-56 (was 43-51) – the worst approval of his presidency.
Donald Trump's approval on Gallup at the end of January 2018 (end of first year)? 39-57.
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) January 19, 2022
In January 2018, Donald Trump had spent a year dealing with accusations of collaborating with Russian intelligence to corrupt the 2016 election. It would take up most of his first two years as president, and while the allegations turned out to be false, his standing never fully rebounded. Joe Biden had no such extraordinary events pushing his numbers down and moreover had a friendly media environment for the entire year attempting to either spin disaster or avert eyes from it.
So what happened? Afghanistan happened, and then the Biden narrative of competence and steadiness vanished:
During his first year in office, an average of 48.9% of Americans approved of the job President Joe Biden was doing. Biden’s job approval ratings started relatively strong at 57%, but by September had plunged to 43%. A new Gallup poll finds 40% of U.S. adults approving of the job he is doing, his lowest to date. …
His ratings ranged between 54% and 57% from January through June 2021, as the U.S. saw a steep decline in COVID-19 infections and deaths when millions of American adults got vaccinated against the disease. Biden’s public support first showed signs of decline in July amid a surge in infections in the summer, tied to the delta variant of the virus.
After a messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in late August, marred by a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. troops, his approval fell further and has yet to show signs of improvement. In the latest survey, 40% of Americans approve and 56% disapprove of the job he is doing, as the U.S. is plagued by the highest inflation in four decades and another surge of COVID-19 cases, this time fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Biden’s cratering has yet to find a floor, but he’s been looking for it for a while now:
For Biden’s most recent quarter in office, his fourth, which spanned from October 20 through January 19, an average of 41.7% of U.S. adults approved of Biden. Only Trump’s fourth-quarter average was lower than Biden’s, at 36.9%. All other presidents had fourth-quarter averages of 50% or above, with Barack Obama (50.0%), Ronald Reagan (50.8%) and Clinton (51.0%) closest to that mark. George W. Bush’s 85.7% fourth-quarter average is the highest, as Americans rallied around his presidency after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Biden’s biggest problem has been independents, who started off Biden’s term with 61% support. That has dropped by almost half, down to 33% in the latest iteration, but it hasn’t been above 40% since Afghanistan. Gallup talks about “record polarization” being one reason for the stark fall, but Republicans haven’t gotten much more polarized over Biden since the beginning of 2021. GOP approval of Biden’s performance remained consistently around 11%, dropping into single digits only after Biden’s abandonment of Americans in Afghanistan.
In contrast, Biden’s decline among Democrats has been more stark. He started off with 98% approval and held into the 90s until November, when his Build Back Better plan ran off the rails and a food fight started between progressives and moderates. Biden sided with the moderates and his approval then fell among Democrats to below 80% before rebounding in the last survey to 82%. And all the while, independents have fled — the very constituency that carried Biden to his narrow win in 2020.
Besides, who’s really to blame for “record polarization” now? Is it the Republicans who worked with Biden to pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan, or with the president who just equated all of them and two members of his own party’s Senate caucus to Jefferson Davis?
Biden now wants a reset, a point which I’ll address in a separate post, and plans a press conference to launch it. This poll clearly defines the parameters for such a strategy. If Biden’s reset doesn’t aim for moderates, independents, and loosely affiliated Republicans, it’s doomed to fail.