Joe Biden is not failing or flailing

Low approval ratings are used as a proxy by various political and ideological factions to argue that the president needs to do more of what they want and if he doesn’t, he won’t get reelected. (Spoiler alert: nobody will cast their vote in three years based on how they feel today about Biden). Progressives argue ratings are low because Biden is not progressive enough and moderates and “Never Trump” Republicans argue it’s because Biden is too liberal. It’s become conventional wisdom in the media that Biden’s approval ratings started dropping because of how he handled the Afghanistan withdrawal. But Gallup’s senior editor Jeff Jones told Politico in November that his declining poll numbers began before that, during the Delta Covid-19 variant surge.

The fact is, approval ratings are most closely tied to how people feel about their day-to-day lives. Americans are understandably fatigued as we enter the third year of the pandemic and, until the US gets back to some semblance of normal, we should expect Biden’s approval ratings to reflect that frustration. Moreover, gas prices are high and research has shown that presidential approval ratings often track with gas prices, even though the president’s power over these prices is limited. The economic news is mostly good for Biden — unemployment is down and wages are up — but inflation is high and rising. Taken together, this means the day-to-day life of many Americans feels really hard.