Joe Biden was elected on a promise that he would bring progress, stability and bipartisanship back to Washington, D.C. — a pledge that enabled him to pull together a historically diverse coalition of voters.
One year after President Biden’s inauguration, however, these promises have proven to be tenuous at best. As the year progressed, Biden’s failure to turn his words into action led to cracks in his coalition — which are now turning into gaping holes.
Currently, the president’s overall approval rating is at an all-time low overall (33 percent), and on key issues, including the economy (34 percent), foreign policy (35 percent), and the coronavirus pandemic (39 percent), according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.
A recent column for the Wall Street Journal coauthored by a writer of this piece posited that Hillary Clinton could be a viable 2024 contender for the Democratic presidential nomination given, among other factors, Biden’s weak political position.
That scenario is unlikely to occur. However, the fact that it is even being considered reflects the degree to which the Democratic party under Biden has moved away from its traditional positioning in domestic affairs.
As a result, Biden’s overall ratings have especially declined among two key groups that propelled him in 2020: Independent voters and Latino voters.
Biden won Independents by 13-points in 2020; but the Quinnipiac poll found that just 25 percent of Independents approve of the job Biden is doing as president, down from 44 percent in August. The same trend exists with Latino voters, who elected Biden by a margin of 33-points in 2020. A Morning Consult poll found that just 49 percent of Latino voters now approve of Biden’s job performance, down from 66 percent in August.
Throughout the first several months of Biden’s presidency, most polls showed a majority of voters approving of his job performance. But over the summer as the delta variant of the coronavirus surged, Americans grew frustrated with the administration’s mixed-messaging on the effectiveness of vaccines. At the same time, inflation and consumer prices rose, and supply-chain bottlenecks and labor shortages undercut the quality of services that American consumers are used to.
While this was unfolding throughout the middle and second half of 2021, Biden remained almost singularly focused on advancing his “transformational” progressive piece of legislation, the Build Back Better plan, while seeming to overlook the issues that were of primary importance to voters. At that point, voters began turning against an administration that they clearly felt had become more attuned to the priorities of progressives, and less focused on addressing the concerns and frustrations of the American electorate.
Separately, in August, the Biden administration led a chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, which caused many voters to question Biden’s ability to lead as commander-in-chief. Since then, Biden’s approval has yet to eclipse the high-40’s.
As Biden enters the second year of his presidency, he faces a multi-faceted set of challenges — which collectively set up the potential for a blow-out defeat by the G.O.P. in the midterm elections, barring a major course-correction.
The nation is entering the third year of a raging pandemic, and the Supreme Court this week rejected the administration’s vaccine mandate policy for large private employers. Inflation is at a 30-year high, consumer prices are soaring, and the stock market is flagging. All the while, Biden needs to advance a new domestic agenda in light of the Build Back Better plan’s failure in the Senate.
Last week, in an attempt to score a legislative win, Biden tried to rally Senate Democrats around an effort to weaken the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation — positing that it is a necessary response to the various voting restrictions bills that were passed and signed into law in Republican-controlled states last year.
But given that moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) oppose changing the filibuster, the voting rights bill is dead on arrival in the Senate and will meet the same fate as the much-debated and ultimately unsuccessful Build Back Better package.
Regardless of the merits of the voting rights package, Biden only stands to lose politically from these back-to-back policy failures and this hasty push to repeal the filibuster.
Biden and congressional Democrats need to dedicate their focus to crafting, promoting, and passing viable legislation that addresses voters’ top issues of concern. The administration has spent too much time wrangling members of their own party — without success — to pass policies that ultimately alienate key voting groups like Hispanic and Latino voters.
Biden should embrace a more moderate approach that centers on a government that delivers targeted economic and social policies: stronger borders, fiscally responsible welfare expansion, and reasonable climate policies.
With regard to the Build Back Better plan, there are still elements that can and should be pursued through incrementalism based on each policy’s merit and political appeal — a path that would allow Democrats to both maintain fiscal discipline and deliver reforms that voters can understand and engage with.
This is an approach that Doug has advocated for previously, and one that Former President Bill Clinton reportedly suggested to Manchin — rightly so — in an effort to bring him back on board with portions of the legislation.
Absent such a course correction this year, Biden’s ratings will continue to drop, and Democrats are almost certain to be brought down by Republicans in 2022.
Douglas E. Schoen and Carly Cooperman are pollsters and partners with the public opinion company Schoen Cooperman Research based in New York. They are co-authors of the book, “America: Unite or Die.”