'Battered on trust, doubted on leadership': A 'brutal' poll for Biden shows no easy fix

"These new poll numbers are frankly brutal for the president," CNN anchor Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperDemocrats face critical 72 hours Dems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill IMF economist expecting inflation pressure through mid-2022 MORE reported on Wednesday after a new Quinnipiac University poll showed that President Biden is at his lowest approval number yet — 38 percent. 

But the 38 percent approval is perhaps the best news in the poll when looking at how Americans see the president's performance on individual issues. "Brutal" is almost a generous way to describe it.  

Just nine months into his presidency, Biden is at 32 percent approval with independents, the people who decide elections in battleground states such as Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada. On his handling of the economy, which was in the midst of a V-shaped recovery when Biden took office, he's 16 points underwater (39 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove). On taxes, the president is 17 points underwater. 

ADVERTISEMENT

On the southern border, where the U.S. is on pace to eclipse 2.3 million people crossing illegally this year, he's at 23 percent approval. That's less than 1 in 4 Americans approving. By the way, 2.3 million people is equivalent to the population of the nation's fourth-largest city, Houston. 

On Biden’s job as commander in chief of the U.S. military, 37 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove. 

But here's why these polling numbers aren't just part of the usual peaks and valleys that every president endures: On the question of whether the administration — not just Biden — is competently running the government, just 42 percent say it is doing so. 

That's an extremely difficult impression to undo. 

The poll analysts at FiveThirtyEight argued back in August that the president would likely rebound, citing the news cycle moving on from the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal as the primary cause. But, as I argued at the time, Biden's sinking polls were about much more than Afghanistan: 

ADVERTISEMENT

"We’re now more than a month removed from Biden’s difficult August, and there have been no signs of a rebound in his approval rating," FiveThirtyEight now reports.

 

"There may be no easy fix for Biden," it adds. "Even an improvement in the COVID-19 situation may not improve his political fortunes: According to data compiled by The New York Times, the rolling average of newly detected COVID-19 cases nationally has decreased since mid-September, but Biden’s average approval rating on the issue of the coronavirus has remained steady." 

That approval is also underwater in the new Quinnipiac poll, with 48 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving. On Tuesday alone, the death toll from COVID-19 in the U.S. was 2,990. Minority groups are bearing the brunt of that death toll. 

"Biden has a lower approval rating at this point in his term than all but two presidents since 1945, so if he’s going to regain his popularity, he’s got an unusually big hole to dig himself out of," FiveThirtyEight concludes. 

And that's where it's hard to see how Biden, who turns 79 years old next month, turns this around by making his arguments on how to fix X, Y and Z and beyond. His handlers apparently remain petrified to allow him to speak beyond reading off a teleprompter. A recent embarrassing display during an Oval Office meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson underscores this: Johnson took questions from the British press as the two men sat next to each other. But when it was the American media's turn to ask questions of the U.S. president, Biden’s handlers shouted reporters out of the room. 

 

ADVERTISEMENT

 

 

“Battered on trust, doubted on leadership, and challenged on overall competency, President Biden is being hammered on all sides as his approval rating continues its downward slide to a number not seen since the tough scrutiny of the Trump administration,” Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy candidly observed in a statement after the poll was released. 

And that's the thing: Biden was seen as far more trustworthy than his predecessor. Sure, he made his share of gaffes. But that was part of his authenticity, his charm, his ability to connect with people, according to the argument made by more than a few political pundits in selling the Biden brand. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Just 44 percent of Americans now believe Biden is honest, down 7 points from the same poll in April. 

Add it all up, and we have a flailing economy, rising inflation, rising crime, essentially an open border and a mess in Afghanistan. While all of this is happening, the president and Vice President Harris are shielded from the public outside of tightly scripted events. Democrats also are in the midst of a civil war and, despite controlling the House and Senate, can't get a massive spending bill across the goal line. 

Things are looking brutal indeed for this administration. 

If these polls and others like them are any indication, Team Biden needs to make some serious changes, and quickly — because whatever plan it had to script this presidency clearly isn't working.  

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.