1. Home
  2. International

Biden’s approval ratings are terrible. Here what’s going on

Polling numbers have taken a historic tumble. Can his budget bill win back the middle class?

U.S. President Joe Biden has the second-lowest approval rating since the post-Watergate era of any U.S. president this early in his term.

U.S. President Joe Biden has the second-lowest approval rating since the post-Watergate era of any U.S. president this early in his term.

Photo: Reuters / Evelyn Hockstein

RCI

Joe Biden has a virulent strain of a condition endemic to the American presidency: he's got a bad case of the first-year blahs.

And he's counting on a massive budget bill to cure what ails him.

Democrats are getting close to a legislative win that would advance some of the priorities he campaigned on, touching climate, tax, health and child policies.

It's far from certain that even if that package passes it will save the party in midterm congressional elections a year from now.

Biden's approval rating (new window) is now the second-lowest of any president since the post-Watergate era at this stage of his first term.

While it's not uncommon for a president to see his approval slide in year one, this skid is steeper than most. 

Among the last eight presidents (new window), only one president had a lower approval rating in late-October of his first year than Biden's current average of 42 per cent (new window): Donald Trump.

Outperforming Trump is no longer a given, either. One pollster, Quinnipiac (new window), actually has Trump's current approval rating one point higher than Biden's.

Biden's numbers have slid so fast he's, by some measures, about as unpopular as his predecessor, Donald Trump, right.

Biden's numbers have slid so fast he's, by some measures, about as unpopular as his predecessor, Donald Trump, right.

Photo: afp via getty images / ANGELA WEISS

His approval rate has dropped about a dozen percentage points from his inauguration in an average of polls (new window) from different firms.

He's bleeding support virtually everywhere — with voters of different ages, races, ideologies, income groups and geographic regions.

But some of his biggest losses have been among certain income and demographic groups.

The biggest defection: working-class voters

Biden has lost the most with voters who have the least.

The steepest plunge in support is among voters making under $50,000 US a year while support has been steadier among those earning over $100,000.

Morning Consult shows Biden's approval down 18 points among those in that lower-income bracket, from 61 per cent in January (new window) to 43 per cent now (new window).

That polling firm also shows his approval down 20 points among Black voters; 17 among Hispanic voters; and 13 among white voters.

One pollster said there's a sense Biden hasn't gotten much done. 

Biden promised better access to health care, child care, climate policy, police reform, voting rights and immigration reform.

Those are the voters saying, 'Where are the things we were promised? Why is this taking so long? Why are there roadblocks here?' said Patrick Murray, director of New Jersey's Monmouth University Polling Institute.

These are the groups of voters saying, 'I helped the Democratic Party get elected. What is the Democratic Party doing for me?'

Those voters aren't satisfied with procedural excuses, he said. 

Two senators have been most responsible for watering down Biden's legislative plan: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, in the foreground, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, in the background. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Two senators have been most responsible for watering down Biden's legislative plan: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, in the foreground, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, in the background. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Photo: (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

It may be a fact that passing bills through the U.S. Senate usually requires 60 per cent (new window) of the votes, and Democrats don't have that many seats, so instead they're trying to cram whatever they can into a budget bill (new window) they can pass with a simple majority.

But, says Murray, that's not a persuasive argument. In voters' eyes, You're elected to get things done.

Afghanistan, pandemic, inflation, gas prices...

External events made things worse, Murray said.

He said the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan damaged Biden because the ensuing chaos raised the notion that this administration might be less competent than expected.

Broader forces are at play beyond what Congress does or doesn't pass, Easley says.

The delta variant of the coronavirus and the summer pandemic wave; supply-chain shortages; and the rising cost of essential goods such as gasoline — all these things have, he says, soured the public mood.

One analyst who studies the Latino vote says there's a reason minority voters have been among the likeliest to waver on Biden.

Immigration advocates are increasingly frustrated that Democrats haven't moved on the reforms they promised. Seen here is a pro-reform rally on Capitol Hill this week.

Immigration advocates are increasingly frustrated that Democrats haven't moved on the reforms they promised. Seen here is a pro-reform rally on Capitol Hill this week.

Photo: (Shuran Huang/Reuters)

It's the cumulative effect of the issues mentioned above plus additional unrealized promises important to members of those communities, said Sergio Garcia-Rios, who studies Latino voters at the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University.

For example, he said, there's no indication meaningful immigration reform is happening any time soon as Democrats appear incapable of getting it into the budget bill.

There has been no signal that things are going to change, Garcia-Rios said.

A silver lining for Biden

The news isn't all gloomy for Biden.

A drop in support happens, after all, to every president in their first year. And it's not always politically fatal.

The decline in Biden's approval rating, according to Gallup (new window), is 15 percentage points from his post-inauguration honeymoon, which is about the same experienced early on by Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

And they all won re-election. 

Biden's decline isn't quite as dramatic as one president who lost re-election — Gallup had Jimmy Carter sliding 24 points in his first year.

Democrats also sound optimistic they're close to a deal to pass their budget bill with its tax, health, climate and family policies.

Could this produce a bounce?

In the recent past, Trump's numbers did get a lift when he signed the biggest domestic legislation of his presidency, a tax-cut bill in 2017.

Trump got a popularity bounce after he signed a major tax bill in 2017, seen here. It was temporary. Could the same happen with Biden?

Trump got a popularity bounce after he signed a major tax bill in 2017, seen here. It was temporary. Could the same happen with Biden?

Photo: (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

But it was temporary. 

Trump's Republicans got thrashed in the next year's midterms. 

And the bottom line is that's the historical norm. The average loss of House seats for a president's party, since the 1970s, in a first midterm, is 28.

Democrats only have a four-seat advantage.

So unless things change, one year from now, in the midterms of Nov. 8, 2022, Republicans will have new power in Washington.

Budget bill is no panacea

So, what about that budget bill?

Democrats sound hopeful they might have a deal soon on the highlights of a plan.

It'll be far smaller than the one Biden originally proposed (new window)

And don't expect a watered-down bill to reverse the political trend line, Murray said.

If it's just tinkering with the edges, that's going to be problematic, Murray said. If [voters] feel there are too many compromises, it doesn't really matter how big the bill is.

WATCH | Back in April, Biden made a lot of promises in 1st address to Congress:

Easley agreed Democrats have dropped some popular policies to convince moderate senators to support the bill, and that might disappoint some Biden supporters. 

For example, he said, the biggest political winner in the package was a plan to lower drug prices by making pharmaceutical companies negotiate with the federal government, as happens in other countries.

That idea was reportedly nixed by Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

 It looks like an opportunity missed, Easley said.

Alexander Panetta (new window) · CBC News

Headlines