Democrats are rightly worried about President Biden’s poor job approval ratings. A closer look at his ratings among independents shows that Democrats should be even more worried than they are.
Biden’s overall job approval ratings are bad enough. Only 45.1% of Americans approve of his performance per last week’s RealClearPolitics average; 47.9% disapprove. That alone makes Biden less popular at this stage of his presidency than any president in the past 40 years except for Donald Trump.
Among independents, however, Biden is about as unpopular as Trump was at this stage in his presidency. An average of 39% of independents approved of Biden’s performance in the three polls taken between Sept. 18 and 26 that made data available for those voters; 52% disapproved. Trump’s comparable numbers among independents in three polls taken between Sept. 22 and 27, 2017, were 38% approval and 50% disapproval. That means Biden’s minus-13 net job approval among independents is statistically identical to Trump’s minus-12.
This symmetry continues even if we include other polls that were worse for each president. Biden’s net job approval among independents in the most recent Economist/YouGov poll, which was taken between Sept. 26 and 28, dropped from minus-15 in the prior week to minus-22. If we replace the previous Economist/YouGov poll with this new data, Biden’s net approval among independents drops to minus-15. Similarly, if we add a Quinnipiac poll from Sept. 21 to 26, 2017, to Trump’s average, his net job approval rating with independents drops to minus-16.
The fact that Biden is about as unpopular among independents as Trump was then shows how truly politically damaged Biden is right now and should set off alarms in every Democratic campaign office. Biden’s continued strong support among Democrats likely will not translate into congressional victories. Democrats are largely concentrated in a few states, like New York and California. This means that Democrats in swing states, such as Arizona and Wisconsin, and swing House districts outside major metropolitan areas should expect baseline support for Biden to be much lower than it is nationwide. This is what the CIVIQS poll, conducted for the progressive website the Daily Kos, shows. This poll estimates Biden’s net approval rating to be minus-17 in Arizona and at least minus-10 in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina, all of which have Senate seats up for grabs in 2022.
Biden’s abysmal standing with independents spells disaster for Democrats in the midterm elections if it does not substantially improve. Virtually all Senate and House candidates in 2018 and 2020 received vote shares closely resembling Trump’s job approval in their jurisdiction. Maine’s longtime Republican incumbent, Susan Collins, was the only GOP Senate candidate to receive more of the vote than Trump’s job approval as registered in each state’s exit poll. If the same pattern emerges in 2022, Biden’s current showing means Democrats will lose almost every seriously contested Senate seat next year, giving Republican leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, solid control of that chamber. Redistricting complicates the House picture, but Democrats should expect to lose more than 20 seats and likely more than 30 on the current dismal data.
Progressives who say it’s more important to energize the base for the midterms are wrong. Democrats’ 2018 wave was fueled more because they won independents by 12 points than by turning out more Democrats. The Republican 63-seat House pickup in 2010 was also fueled primarily by independents; the GOP won this demographic by a whopping 19 points that year. Clearly, it is the quiet independent voters who make the difference.
Biden won independents by 13 points in 2020. To go from plus-13 to minus-13 in less than a year is an epic disaster. Republicans are standing by, ready to pick up the pieces from a crumbling presidency.
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