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Biden’s mediocre polling could spell trouble

President Biden’s approval numbers are fairly solid early in his administration, but there are some warning signs. Just as his positive polling and election win were based mostly on dislike of former President Trump, his current polling advantages may be just as shallow.

Biden should be doing well — in fact he should be polling very strongly. The economy is improving, the coronavirus is — at least for now — in retreat and there is none of the Trump White House drama the public so detested. His most recent RealClearPolitics approval average is about 52 percent approval against 45 percent disapproval. The Harris poll gives Biden the best numbers, at 59 percent approval, with Morning Consult a tick behind at 58 percent.

The Rasmussen numbers are the lowest, with Biden at 48 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval. Rasmussen is generally considered Republican-leaning and has a “likely voter” screen, which has tended to drag down Democratic numbers. Rasmussen had Biden as high as 55 percent approval in late May.

The most recent YouGov benchmark (the only pollster that consistently makes its crosstabs public) has Biden at 50 percent approval and 43 percent disapproval. Biden has positive approval across all measures including job performance, personal traits and policy issues. Biden’s best number is on handling COVID-19, with 55 percent approval (33 percent disapproval) while his worst is on crime, with 41 percent approval (40 percent disapproval).

Biden’s good numbers are driven by very high approval by Democrats, among whom his approval is in the mid to upper 80s and even low 90s, with the exception of crime, where his approval is 72 percent. Republican disapproval is high, but not as equivalently negative. GOP voters’ disapproval tends to be in the low 70s. Independents are generally neutral to slightly disapproving.

Digging deeper into the polling yields some nascent problems for Biden and the Democrats.

When asked if there was a “border crisis,” respondents agreed 60 percent to 16 percent. Even Democrats concurred 49 percent to 27 percent. And respondents overall opted for Republicans as best to handle the crisis, if slightly (32 percent to 29 percent) with independents favoring the GOP 34 percent to 11 percent.

Biden polls weakly on crime, with independents disapproving 52 percent to 29 percent.

Keep in mind that these are not top issues with most voters. When asked to rank their top issues, immigration managed only 7 percent, behind health care, the economy, the environment, national security and government spending/taxes. Republican voters ranked immigration highly, but not independents or Democrats. Crime performed even worse, with just 4 percent citing it as a top issue.

Immigration and crime do not have to be “No. 1” issues to matter and move votes, but they do seem to be more regional and demographic-specific issues. Border security looks to be a widening debacle for Democratic officeholders in South Texas. Violence in select cities like Minneapolis and St. Louis could provide a midterm boost in Minnesota and Missouri.

There is one number from a previous survey that could be a serious problem for Biden. In its May polling, YouGov ran a ballot test where Biden led Trump 48 percent to 36 percent. Celebrated as a thumping lead over “The Donald,” that number is not so good for Biden. For one thing, it’s over 3 points down from his general election percentage. So soon after winning and in the initial afterglow of inauguration, having a drop-off, even minor, is not a good number.

But Biden really has had the wind in his sails in that the two biggest issues facing the country — coronavirus and the economy — are both trending in the right direction. Coronavirus cases and deaths have fallen rapidly since January. In addition, most restrictions in most states have been removed, allowing people to regain a sense of normality. On the economic front, unemployment is down, growth is up and the equity markets are up strongly.

Americans have a very instrumentalist view of the president. If things are going well, the president gets the credit, if not, he gets the blame. The public does not really think too deeply about causes and effect or context. For Biden to only be at 48 percent on a ballot test shows weakness, not strength.

The weak Biden ballot test begs the question about his other numbers. To the point, how much of Biden’s decent policy, personal and overall approval has to do with continued reaction against Trump? Biden’s high numbers with Democrats mirror the disapproval numbers of Trump through 2020. And the popularity of Trump with Democrats and independents has not improved with his continued antics and the issues surrounding the Jan. 6 circus.

Trump is almost certainly planning on running in 2024. And, given the fractures in the Democratic Party, it may be that only the anodyne incumbent Biden can keep their coalition together. If there is a Biden-Trump rematch, the far-too-early polling gives a decided advantage to Biden. But if Trump figures he cannot win, an alternate Republican could be in a strong position to take Biden on.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.

Tags 2024 campaign Biden approval rating Biden COVID-19 response Biden economic policy Biden immigration policy COVID economic recovery Crime statistics Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Biden presidency opinion polling presidential approval rising crime U.S.-Mexico border crisis

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