What Undermined Biden’s Popularity?

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On June 1, Joe Biden’s job approval rating was 53.3% in the RealClearPolitics polling average, with a net approval of plus-11.3. In modern politics, plus-11.3 net approval is impressive. Donald Trump never posted a number that high, and Barack Obama only did so at the very beginning and end of his two terms in office. Unfortunately for Biden, the initial good feelings that marked his first few months have long since disappeared, and as of Oct. 28, his net approval had descended to minus-9.7 percentage points. That 21-point drop has turned Biden into a drag on his party’s midterm ambitions instead of the touted asset some had initially pictured.

Amid a summer and early fall full of depressing news, it’s no surprise that Biden’s approval plummeted. The more interesting question is why it fell so far so fast. Which event pushed Biden below water? Was it the rise of the coronavirus delta variant just as Americans were starting to return to life unmasked? Or was it the chaotic exit from Afghanistan, which left 13 Americans dead in a devastating terrorist attack and saw the Taliban reassert control over the country with shocking speed?

Our assessment of RealClearPolitics averages and YouGov/Economist polling is that it was both.

Although Biden’s approval was already falling, the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan accelerated the decline.

Afghanistan began to dominate the news on Aug. 13, 2021. To be sure, major news organizations reported on the Taliban’s march across the country in the preceding weeks, but it was only as the Taliban closed in on Kabul that the story took top billing. From Aug. 13 through Aug. 23, the New York Times featured Afghanistan as its top story every day. The rise of the delta variant seems to have already taken a significant toll on Biden to that point, with about half his decline in approval occurring before Aug. 13. On June 9, Biden stood at 54% approval and 41.1% disapproval in the RCP average, giving him a net rating of plus-12.9. By Aug. 12 — the day before Afghanistan took over the new cycle — his net approval had dropped 8.7 percentage points to plus-4.2.

During that same window, Biden’s approval rating on COVID-19 declined among independent voters and Republicans. YouGov/Economist polling found that among registered voters on May 29, 87% of Democrats, 19% of Republicans, and 46% of independents approved of Biden’s COVID-19 handling, leaving his net pandemic approval at 53% (almost identical to his overall approval). Approximately 86% of those who approved of Biden’s COVID-19 performance also approved of him overall.

By Aug. 14, Biden’s overall coronavirus approval dropped to 48%, with Republicans falling to 9% and independents dipping down to 40%. However, Biden’s approval remained high (89%) among those who still approved of his COVID-19 performance. This consistency suggests that Biden’s deflated pre-Afghanistan approval ratings stem primarily from those who changed their opinion of his pandemic performance. Those who continued to approve of his COVID-19 handling still approved of the job he was doing overall; the number of people in that camp had simply gone down.

While the rise of delta ate into Biden’s cushion, Afghanistan ultimately tipped him into negative territory. Between Aug. 13 and Aug. 23, Biden dropped from plus-4.2 to minus-2.3 in net approval according to the RCP average. Americans were never overwhelmingly confident in Biden’s ability to manage an international crisis, but Afghanistan quickly eroded what confidence there had been.

When he was riding high in June, registered voters were almost perfectly split on Biden’s ability to manage an international crisis — 44% reported confidence, while 43% reported being uneasy (according to the June 5 YouGov/Economist poll). Those numbers shifted to 37% and 49% by the Aug. 28, with Biden’s net Afghanistan approval a similar minus-13. In the month since, his foreign policy approval has remained below 40%, as has confidence in his ability to manage an international crisis.

Two months after the messy Afghanistan withdrawal, Biden’s approval has continued to drop. In the RCP average, he has slipped from minus-4 net approval on Oct. 1 to minus-9.7 net approval on Oct. 28. Much of that slide can be attributed to independents, who have soured even further on Biden’s pandemic handling. The 40% COVID-19 approval rating he received from the group on Aug. 14 has since fallen to 35%, which is same number of independents who approve of Biden’s overall performance. Meanwhile, overall confidence in his ability to handle an international crisis has held steady at 37%.

Some progressives have suggested that on top of Afghanistan and COVID-19, Biden’s woes stem from insufficiently left-leaning administration policies, costing him liberal and non-white voters. But the polling data doesn’t show anything of the kind. Biden’s approval rating among liberal Democrats was 90% as of Oct. 16, virtually identical to his May 29 rating of 92%. Meanwhile, among black liberals polled in the Oct. 16 survey, 78% approved of Biden, as did 79% of Hispanic liberals. Those numbers represent decreases from the 88% of black liberals who approved of Biden on May 29 and the 83% of Hispanic liberals who did the same.

At the same time, Biden’s numbers dropped significantly more among black and Hispanic moderates/conservatives. Among the former group, Biden’s approval plummeted from 80% to 59%, while the decrease was from 51% to 41% among the latter. Put another way, Biden did lose  ground among liberal blacks and Hispanics, but his losses among non-liberal members of those communities were more substantial.

Most troubling for Biden and the Democrats is the drop in independent approval.

In the 2016 presidential race, post-election YouGov and national exit polls showed that Donald Trump carried independents on his way to winning the Oval Office. In contrast, the 2018 post-election YouGov and national exit polls showed that independents broke for Democratic congressional candidates, giving Democrats control in the House of Representatives. A similar performance among independents handed the Democratic ticket the presidential election in 2020. With Biden deeply underwater among independents, Democrats have reason to fear next year’s midterm elections.

With his congressional agenda shrinking and stalled, Biden faces a difficult road to rehabilitating his public support. Fortunately for him, American voters have relatively short memories, and a full year separates us from the 2022 midterms. While the outlook for those elections currently is dim for Democrats, Biden will still have opportunities to improve his party’s prospects.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

Brett Parker is a JD/PhD student at Stanford University.

David Brady is a professor of political science at Stanford University and the Davies Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The Daily Wire is one of America’s fastest-growing conservative media companies and counter-cultural outlets for news, opinion, and entertainment. Get inside access to The Daily Wire by becoming a member.

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