Last night, Joe Biden made his first address to a Joint Session of Congress. We will have to wait a few days to see whether he gets the traditional bounce in opinion polls, but we already know something about where he stands right now. Despite a crisis on the border and a hardline agenda on spending, guns, and taxes, Biden’s approval ratings may at first appear solid–he has exceeded the percentage of voters disapproving by a steady 10% or so over the last month in the RealClearPolitics average. Dig deeper, however, and one discovers that Biden’s poll numbers are full of glaring warning signs for Democrats–and his current political position may be based on sand.
A Word On the Polling Industry
There are dangers in using opinion polling, especially from the mainstream media or traditional outfits, as the basis of any analysis of American politics. Not only did the polling industry miss Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, but their polling underestimated him consistently in 2020 as well. State-level polling, in particular, was abysmal, with polling averages showing Joe Biden with leads of around 7% in Michigan and Wisconsin, behind by only around 2% in Ohio and Iowa, and tied or leading in North Carolina and Florida. In the end, Biden won Wisconsin by less than 1% and lost Ohio and Iowa by 8%. National polling was a little bit better, with stress on a little. Polling averages showed Biden leading by 51.2% to 44%, an average of 7.2%, and the official results showed him winning a 51.62%-46.9% victory in November. Whether it was honest difficulty in reaching Trump supporters or media pollsters did not really try, their record left quite a lot to be desired.
Nonetheless, polling has to provide a frame of reference. Without it, there is little to analyze. As a consequence, while caveating the bias and inaccuracy of state-level polling, in particular in the 2020 cycle, if we take polls on their own merits, we can still draw useful information from within their universes. For instance, regardless of whether Joe Biden is in fact at 53%-44% approval in a poll showing that or at 48%-46% or something else, we can still learn something important if the same poll showing an overall national approval rating of 53%-44% shows that voters think Biden is doing a bad job on Guns 33%-59%, on China 35%-44%, and on the border 32%-61%.
Taking the current national polls on their own merits and knowing the reality is probably at least somewhat different, and we can nonetheless see how polls supposedly “favorable” for Biden, in fact, disguise substantial weaknesses.
The National Picture
On issue after issue where Biden has agency and control, such as guns, immigration, and foreign policy, voters give Biden low marks. It is the dominance of concerns about the Coronavirus and Economy, and Joe Biden’s genuine talent for minimizing his own profile and that of his Administration when it comes to policy, which has prevented many of this underlying dissatisfaction from breaking through up until this point. The data indicates that Biden and the Democratic party should worry that this will not last.
While it frustrates political journalists to no end, there are few places where the old saying “no news is good news” applies more strongly than to the self-interest of incumbent politicians. This is a consequence of the structural nature of politics. News by definition requires controversy to break through to public attention, and controversy by definition divides. While it can rally the support of those who favor a politician’s positions, it simultaneously angers those who oppose them. Luckily, officeholders have the luxury of mobilizing their supporters by handing out favors in the form of government policy and payments, to the extent, they can carry this out with as little attention as possible, they can accrue all the gains of satisfying their own supporters without the risk of their opponents even noticing. This is the trick Joe Biden is currently attempting.
Biden never pretended to be a ‘Great Communicator”. He arguably could barely communicate at all when it came to ideas or a vision. What Joe Biden ran on in 2020, and made the basis for his entire fifty-year political career, was the ability to “deliver” or “get things done.” Whether it was legislative pork in the Senate, especially protection for Delaware’s Insurance industry and segregated schools, or applying bare-knuckle pressure to achieve the outcomes Biden found desirable in Ukraine or China under the Obama Administration, Biden’s image was as someone who makes sure the checks arrive.
It is hard to look at the polling on Joe Biden’s Administration 100 days in without taking into account who Joe Biden is and how he has conducted his Presidency. Some on the Left have begun to hail what Joe Biden has done. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez recently declared that she was “happily surprised,” having “expected a much more conservative administration.” This is hardly a surprise to conservatives who have been blowing the bugle horn on the radical policies of the Biden Administration, not just when it comes to the border, but guns, spending, taxes, and law enforcement. But if both the Left and the Right have noticed and tried to raise interest, one figure has made no effort to trumpet these actions. That is the President himself, who seems to go out of his way to play them down. Ocasio-Cortez may be happily surprised by the Biden Administration, but the President has yet to even speak to her.
If there is a word to describe Joe Biden’s numbers today, it is “alright.” The RealClearPolitics average for the first three weeks of April has Biden’s approval rating at 53.1%, with 41.5% disapproving. If the number of those without an opinion seems oddly high at 6%, that is because we are used to the Bush, Obama, Trump eras when everyone had an opinion. A full 6% of Americans can have no idea what they think of the President, either way, and it seems unusual. When it comes to the strength of opinions, the contrast is striking. 29% of respondents have a very positive view of Joe Biden, while 27% have a Very Negative one. By contrast, in the last poll before the 2020 election by the same pollster, 33% had a very positive view of Donald Trump and 49% a Very Negative view. 83% felt strongly about Donald Trump, compared to only 56% with strong views of Joe Biden today.
Furthermore, even those who know what they think of Joe Biden seem to mostly be expressing what they think about the country. In the most recent NBC News Poll, whose 53%-39% numbers are similar to the average, voters tend to most strongly approve of Joe Biden’s performance on issues he has the least agency over. When it comes to his handling of the Coronavirus, they approve 69% to 27%. On the economy, they approve 52% to 43%. On race relations, the numbers are narrower, 49% to 44%. Those are the only three issue areas where Joe Biden receives positive ratings. When it comes to Taxes and Spending (44% Approve-48% Disapprove), China (35% Approve-44% Disapprove), Guns(34% Approve-55% Disapprove), and Border Security (33% Approve059% Disapprove), voters disapprove of Biden’s leadership, often by massive margins.
Similar numbers can be seen in the most recent Fox News poll, which has an overall approval rating of 54% to 43% for Joe Biden. On the Coronavirus, Health Care, and the Economy Biden receives positive marks of 58%-34%, 48%-37%, and 48%-42%, respectively. When it comes to Foreign Policy, Guns, Border Security, and Immigration, his numbers are all underwater at 41%-42%, 36%-49%, 35%-51%, and 34%-52%.
It is hard to conclude anything other than that voters do not, in fact, approve of Joe Biden’s policies, at least in the areas where he has them. In the case of COVID, he is benefiting from the legacy of Operation Warp Speed and the “Vaccine Bounce” being seen by incumbents around the world. On the economy, he inherited a recovering economy and just sent every American cash in the mail. But on the issues where Biden actually has tried to make changes – China, Guns, the Border, Spending – the voters give him low marks.
Most likely because for many voters, those issues do not currently matter as much as the end of the pandemic and the recovery of the economy, and Biden, while pushing left-wing causes, has been careful to play down rather than play up his “achievements” in those areas. Voters may not like what he is trying to do, but they underestimate what he has actually done, and Biden’s entire persona encourages them to do so. This is evident in the NBC poll where when asked to name the one or two most important issues facing the country, “Americans’ top responses were Covid-19 (30 percent), uniting the country (25 percent), race relations (23 percent), the economy (23 percent) and border security and immigration (22 percent).”
Nonetheless, these approval numbers on “issues” are a major warning sign for Biden, and even more so for other Democrats. COVID is an issue where success is self-negating. Any success in mitigating the virus will, over the long run, render the issue less important and thereby increase the salience of things such as gun rights, China, or border security, none of which are likely to go away anytime soon. Furthermore, down-ballot Democrats, without the benefit of the executive branch, will be forced to run on policy, and the evidence is that, if anything, their policies are even less popular than in 2020.
Not a lot may be happening right now in polling, but Republicans should not confuse the strength of Biden’s overall numbers with broad strength on policy. Republicans have succeeded in convincing voters that Biden is wrong on a host of issues. If Democrats defy public opinion and push ahead in those areas, as Biden suggested last night in his address to Congress, things may shift very rapidly, and Biden’s numbers could quickly collapse.
We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...
As we look forward to expanding our work in support of America’s Seniors, we're asking you to consider a gift to help the AMAC Foundation continue to grow.
The AMAC Foundation, a 501(c)(3), plays a vital role in developing resources that enrich America's Seniors' lives. From Social Security to Medicare—with a lot in between—our services have helped thousands of Seniors by providing guidance at a time when they need it most.
Your support of our tax-exempt Foundation will enable us to continue delivering programs that meet a growing community's needs and that are vital to their well-being.
Thank you for putting your faith in AMAC!Donate Now