As the summer comes to a close, President Joe Biden’s job approval ratings have taken a major hit.
Both the RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight polling averages show pluralities disapproving of Biden’s performance in office, with his approval rating stuck in the mid-40s.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted between Aug. 29 and Sept. 1 showed Biden with a 51% disapproval rating, while just 44% approved. Biden had previously enjoyed solid, if unspectacular, approval ratings in the mid-to-high 50s. He received 51.4% of the national popular vote last year, though his margins in the top battleground states were narrower.
These numbers are a major cause for concern among Democrats nearly a year out from midterm elections in which they will defend razor-thin congressional majorities. They saw major losses in the House and Senate in the first midterm elections of the last two Democratic presidencies. “If [Biden’s] approval rating is below 50 by the end of the year,” a top Democratic data specialist warned New York magazine, “we’re probably f***ed.”
There are five major issues driving down Biden’s numbers and making this a more plausible scenario for Democrats.
The messy withdrawal from Afghanistan
Ending the 20-year-old war in Afghanistan was a popular campaign promise backed by both Biden and former President Donald Trump, in addition to bipartisan majorities of voters — including military veterans — in most public polls. But the execution of the withdrawal received extremely poor marks and undercut Biden’s image as a competent leader.
While the administration has touted the high volume of evacuations, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki noting on the eve of the operation’s completion that “we have, to date, evacuated more than 120,000 people — that’s 120,000 lives that we’ve saved” — the State Department has estimated that as many as 200 Americans and a majority of Afghan partners in the war effort were left behind.
There was also a terrorist attack on the Kabul airport during the evacuations that led to the deaths of 13 U.S. service members. Even before that deadly assault, there were images of chaos throughout the country as people attempted to flee the Taliban takeover.
Contrary to predictions Biden made in the weeks before the withdrawal, the U.S.-supported Afghan government collapsed quickly, even before Western personnel could get out of the country. A Pew Research Center poll found that even though most adults still agreed with pulling out of Afghanistan, they faulted Biden for the withdrawal’s execution. Just 21% said Biden had done a good job, and 6% rated his Afghanistan performance as excellent, compared to 29% who considered it fair and 42% who judged it as poor.
The delta variant
Biden’s approval ratings had begun to dip even before the Afghanistan departure. His relative popularity had been driven by perceptions that he was doing a good job managing the pandemic, presiding over large-scale vaccinations and the reopening of much of the economy after more than a year of mitigation measures restricting businesses.
But the emergence of the delta variant and pockets of vaccine resistance have threatened to upend much of this progress as cases and hospitalizations have once again soared. Mask-wearing has returned for vaccinated people indoors in many places, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. There has been talk of booster shots, even as the federal government moves toward mandating most of its workforce get their first and second shots.
While Biden has characterized the resurgence of the coronavirus as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he has also taken aim at red-state governors who have resisted federal advice on masking and other measures to control the spread. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both possible Republican challengers in 2024, have been especially noteworthy targets of Biden’s ire.
The border crisis
Biden’s handling of the southern border has been a problem the entire time he has been in office, after he reversed a number of Trump-era immigration policies. The migrant surge in the middle of a pandemic, frequently including large numbers of minors, has continued unabated. The federal government reported more than 210,000 border encounters in July, the last month for which data is available.
In some polls, Biden’s job approval ratings on immigration and border security are stuck in the 30s. The issue has ensnared Vice President Kamala Harris, the likeliest Democratic standard-bearer if Biden opts against seeking a second term. She long delayed a trip to the border, arguing that her real task was to address the root causes of the problem.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has described the situation as “unsustainable” and predicted “we’re going to lose” if conditions don’t change. Federal authorities have been overwhelmed processing the migrants, some of whom are infected with COVID-19.
Even in better days, Biden’s poll numbers on the economy were middling. Last year, voters who prioritized economic reopening chose Trump. But inflation and inconsistent jobs numbers have bedeviled this administration, despite — or possibly because of — his attempts to pour trillions of dollars of new federal spending into the economy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the economy added just 235,000 jobs in August, well below expectations even as the unemployment rate dipped to 5.2%. “What we’re seeing is an economic recovery that is durable and strong,” Biden said at the White House on Friday, blaming the delta variant for the numbers not being better. “While I know some wanted to see a larger number today, and so did I, what we’ve seen this year is continued growth, month after month.”
Inflation has also been a persistent concern, reaching a 13-year peak and remaining high through July. The Biden administration cites economists who consider the price surge temporary and argue the last two months of data suggest inflation could have already peaked. Larry Summers, a top economic adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is among those who have warned the economy could be overheating. Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat from West Virginia, has cited inflation as a reason to tap the brakes on Biden’s spending plans.
The high inflation of the 1970s, which was far worse than anything we’ve yet seen under Biden, helped doom a generation of Democratic dominance and sweep Republicans into power in the 1980s.
Another issue that turned the Democrats’ 1960s Great Society dreams into 1970s national malaise was out-of-control violent crime in major cities. That has also come roaring back as major urban areas grapple with a spike in homicides, threatening to make law-and-order a campaign wedge issue for the first time in decades.
Biden has tried to distance the Democrats from causes like “defund the police,” which have contributed to low law enforcement morale in cities reeling from violence and hurt the president’s party in swing districts last year. But vocal, up-and-coming young Democrats have taken up the idea of transferring resources away from the police for social welfare spending, leading some voters to wonder whether Biden speaks for the party as much as left-wing New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
High percentages of voters have disapproved of Biden’s handling of crime and gun violence for months. An ABC News poll in early July found that just 38% backed Biden’s handling of crime, while 48% disapproved.
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Original Author: W. James Antle III
Original Location: Five reasons Biden’s approval ratings have taken a pounding