The most recent stats from 5 reputable polling firms-- so none of the joke-companies like Trafalgar or Rasmussen-- show Biden with extremely poor approval ratings-- all 5 underwater:
Ipsos for Reuters: -9
Fox News: -5
YouGov for The Economist: -11
NBC News: -10
Morning Consult for Politico: -16
Bloomberg News' Jonathan Bernstein writes that it isn't good, but that it doesn't matter that much, at least not in terms of his reelection prospects. The number he's using shows a 42.3% average approval and noted that it’s the second-lowest rating at this point ever, just a bit better than Donald Trump’s 39.1%. Only Gerald Ford at 43.5%, Ronald Reagan (48.9%), Barack Obama (49.9%) and Harry Truman (50%) were even within 10 points of Biden’s figure through 369 days."
"Of course," he wrote, "Reagan, Truman and Obama all won re-election, while Jimmy Carter (who was at 55% on Jan. 20, 1977) and George H.W. Bush (78.3%!) were defeated, so Biden’s unpopularity now tells us nothing about what will happen if he runs in 2024. And there’s plenty of time: Reagan slumped all the way down to 35.3% early in 1983 before winning 49 states in a landslide victory in 1984. On the other hand, Reagan, Truman and Obama all had their parties get clobbered in their first midterms, so that’s not a good sign for Democrats."
Although it’s hard to say exactly why Biden has become unpopular, and there are a lot of theories out there, his numbers over time are certainly consistent with the rise and fall of the coronavirus. His approval rating began declining soon after the delta wave began, flattened out or perhaps recovered a bit when that wave ebbed, and then dropped again when omicron took hold. That’s consistent with a comparative perspective, which might note that Biden is one of several world leaders who isn’t very popular right now. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the effects of the pandemic recession and recovery, including high inflation, contributed to Biden’s slump. It’s a lot less likely that legislative strategy has much to do with it, as too few people pay close enough attention for that to matter. As for ideological positioning? It just hasn’t changed enough from the first six months of the administration to be driving changes in popularity.
Generally, the best explanation is the simplest one: People are in a pretty grumpy mood as the second year of the pandemic ends with record-high case counts and various other negative effects-- including inflation-- and they’re taking it out on the president. We may get a reasonable test of this explanation in the spring. If the omicron wave ebbs and we get a few months similar to March through June last year; if inflation turns out to have peaked at the end of 2021; and if no new major negative news story emerges, then we’ll see whether Biden’s popularity rebounds a fair amount by, say, June. That said, I wouldn’t expect a full recovery for a while even if conditions do get better, if only because the virus has dashed people’s hopes so many times.
What all this suggests is that there’s only a very loose connection between the president’s actions and public opinion. Biden benefited last spring and summer from a seeming return to normal that at best he was only partly responsible for; he slumped in the fall despite continuing the same policies; and he may recover without fundamentally changing course at all. Political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels set out the evidence for that loose connection in Democracy for Realists and concluded that politicians have little incentive to make good public policy. I think that’s wrong; as long as voters respond positively to good news and poorly to bad news-- even if that news may have little or nothing to do with public policy-- politicians should still have a strong incentive to try to produce outcomes people like.
That’s why I continue to take the correlation between the strength of the pandemic and Biden’s approval rating as good news after two presidencies in which approval ratings were unusually static. Biden’s 13 percentage-point approval range is already larger than Trump’s was over his entire four years. It’s not yet as large as Obama’s overall, but it is larger than Obama’s range from the beginning of his second year through well into his eighth year. I suspect Obama’s narrow range during most of his presidency was caused by the unusual condition of a slow but steady recovery from the recession he inherited: Events just never seemed to drive his approval strongly in either direction. As for Trump, my guess is that he really was an unusual case of a president who permanently alienated over half the nation in his initial campaign and never really attempted to win them back. That put a cap on his popularity even during what people perceived as good times. In other words, all those things he did and said-- the things that pundits often said would’ve destroyed other politicians-- really did have significant negative effects.
If it was really true, as some suggest, that Obama’s and Trump’s unchanging approval ratings were caused by partisan polarization, then there really would be no reason for presidents (or other politicians) to try to make voters happy. They could ignore everyone but their strongest supporters, or even just govern for their own benefit, without risk. Biden’s slump could well show that voters still hold the president accountable-- and that future presidents may still have an incentive to pursue good policies.
Anyway, that explains most members of Congress-- and from both parties. Geoffrey Skelly wrote yesterday about why so many more inexperienced non-politicians are running and winning. There was a time-- a very long time-- when candidates who have held political office generally outperformed candidates with no elected experience. "But," he wrote, "there are signs that this is now changing, with voters showing a greater willingness to back amateur candidates. This includes, of course, now-former President Donald Trump-- the ultimate example-- but it also applies to, say, plenty of U.S. House members. It’s not a one-party trend, either, as both Republicans and Democrats increasingly support inexperienced aspirants. And it’s likely that more amateurs could be headed to Capitol Hill after the 2022 midterm elections... [I]nexperienced contenders just don’t face the same barriers they once did in attracting financial support from interest groups and donors. Traditionally, it’s been a challenge for newcomers to attract donations from political action committees, which are often key to congressional candidates raising enough money to win their elections. But... ideological PACs-- typically interest groups focused on a narrow range of issues or just one-- have given more to inexperienced candidates in recent years.
Beyond money, though, voters are also increasingly disillusioned with our institutions, especially Congress, and are also attracted to anti-establishment rhetoric. As a result, they may assign less value to a candidate’s previous elected experience and may be more receptive to outsider candidates with messages promising to shake things up. It's this combination of inexperience and anti-establishment rhetoric that makes these candidates especially attractive to voters, too, according to Treul, as outsiders sound more credible making those appeals. In fact, her research with co-author Eric Hansen of Loyola University Chicago has found that voters have more positive reactions to a candidate when the candidate uses anti-establishment messages compared with establishment-sounding rhetoric, and that respondents may somewhat prefer an amateur candidate over an experienced one.
The increased success of inexperienced candidates may also speak to the weakness of our political parties, which serve less of a gatekeeping role than they once did. This is partly down to the growing influence interest groups have in grooming and supporting candidates. “Where the party puts its money and where these organizations put their money isn't always the same,” said Porter. “These organizations say, ‘We don't necessarily need to go with the party candidate. We can pick this other person.’” Often, though, this person isn’t the party’s prefered candidate.
Perhaps surprisingly, though, the uptick in inexperienced candidates running and winning nominations hasn’t meaningfully hurt a party’s chances of winning House seats. That’s in part because primaries are often the main decision point in determining a district’s next representative, given there are so few competitive House districts. But Treul and Porter also found that inexperienced candidates just don’t perform any worse than experienced ones in general elections where there is not an incumbent. And that may be in large part a side effect of polarization and negative partisanship-- that is, the reality that most voters are going to support their party’s nominee, no matter what.
14 of the 24 candidates for the House endorsed by Blue America so far have never had any elective experience: Shervin Aazami (CA), Sergio Alcubilla (HI), Jason Call (WA), Jessica Cisneros (TX), Ally Dalsimer (VA), Melanie D'Arrigo (NY), Brittany DeBarros (NY), Chris Deluzio (PA), Steven Holden (NY), Lourin Hubbard (CA), Christine Olivo (FL), Mike Ortega (CA), Chris Preece (KY), and Neal Walia (CO). If you want to give them a hand... here.