Biden confronts sinking poll numbers
President Biden is facing strong political headwinds as troubles mount for his domestic agenda.
A slew of recent national polls have shown the president’s once-strong approval numbers dipping across the board. And a poll released Tuesday showed Biden’s approval in Iowa, a traditional swing state, had dropped 12 points since June to 31 percent.
The poor polling comes as Biden’s signature spending effort is on shaky ground in Congress; as thousands of migrants from Haiti and elsewhere gather at the southern border; and as the White House works to get the coronavirus pandemic back under control.
“The honeymoon is definitely over for Biden,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser. “He’s betting voters will forget the problems by the time the midterms come around. He’s going to find a lot of takers of that bet on the Republican side. Biden’s problem is that he can’t keep his coalition together no matter what he does. The more he tries, the more he hands issues to Republicans.”
Biden had enjoyed a steady approval rating in the low 50 percent range for most of the first seven months of his presidency, according to a FiveThirtyEight average of polls. The president was buoyed by a stable economic recovery, declining coronavirus infections and deaths and early policy accomplishments like the passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
But things have taken a turn for Biden in recent weeks. His approval ratings began to take a hit amid the messy withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the subsequent ISIS attack in Kabul that killed 13 American service members.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found 42 percent of participants approved of Biden’s overall performance, with his approval on foreign policy dropping significantly.
On Wednesday, Biden’s approval rating sank to its lowest number yet in the monthly Gallup poll, with 43 percent of Americans giving him positive marks, down 6 percentage points from August.
Biden’s approval in a Morning Consult poll fell from 51 percent in early August to 48 percent at the end of the month — though that number is at least close to 50 percent.
The White House has generally shrugged off the numbers.
“I think the country is going through a lot right now, and people are still under the threat of COVID. That is concerning to a lot of people. We see that in polls, as well,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked to assess the Gallup poll’s findings.
“Even as they approve of the president’s handling of COVID, that’s still something impacting people’s lives,” she continued. “There’s a great deal of anxiety about that. We understand that. But our objective is to keep pushing his agenda forward and keep making their lives better, and look at that over the long term.”
In a possible warning sign for Democrats a year away from the midterms, a Selzer/Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters found Biden’s approval rating down to 31 percent, with 62 percent of respondents disapproving. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is up for reelection next year, and Iowa is home to a pair of closely contested House districts.
Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and director of the public policy program at Hunter College, suggested the pandemic, the Afghanistan withdrawal and state-level attacks on voting rights and reproductive rights have put Democrats on the defensive and underscored how polarized the electorate has grown.
“What that has done is present an image of a president who campaigned on being able to bridge the national divide, but a lot of the tension seems highly partisan in nature,” Smikle said. “That runs contrary to how he campaigned.”
The issues could be compounded, particularly as the administration grapples with a surge of Haitian migrants fleeing the country after yet another natural disaster.
The White House has been on its back foot over the handling of thousands of Haitian migrants at the southern border, and the issue has prompted attacks from both the left and the right. White House officials have condemned images of Border Patrol agents on horseback corralling migrants, but deportations have continued.
In Congress, a standoff with Republicans over the debt ceiling looms, and a reconciliation bill that contains many of Biden’s signature economic policies is on rocky ground as Democratic factions threaten to scuttle a deal.
The president met Wednesday with Democratic lawmakers to try and parse out a path forward that would satisfy moderates and progressives who are at odds over whether to prioritize the large social spending bill or a bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The White House has been adamant that its economic approach is working.
Andrew Bates, a principal press secretary, shared a poll on Tuesday from Navigator research that found 66 percent of registered voters surveyed support Biden’s cornerstone spending proposal that would fund programs for health care, Medicare, climate policies and child care. That figure includes 61 percent of independents surveyed, and 39 percent of Republicans.
Biden’s approval rating is also 7 percentage points higher than former President Trump’s was at the same time in his first term, according to a FiveThirtyEight average, indicating he remains more popular than his predecessor, particularly with independents.
Still, for a year that began with soaring optimism for Democrats as they controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, albeit narrowly, the path ahead appears murky.
The Senate filibuster has proved itself to be a recurring obstacle for the White House in passing priorities like gun law reforms, stronger voting rights and a higher minimum wage.
At Monday’s White House briefing, Psaki was asked if, given the roadblocks some of Biden’s key campaign priorities have faced in the Senate, the White House acknowledged that some of those agenda items may not happen before the midterms.
“No,” Psaki replied flatly, before moving on to another reporter.
Morgan Chalfant contributed.