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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Navigating Biden’s Latest Approval Ratings

Some insights from excerpts of a FiveThirtyEight chat in response to the question, “Is Biden’s Approval Rating Really Rebounding?

sarah (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): In the last two weeks or so, President Biden’s approval rating has ticked up from 41.1 percent to 42.9 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker.1 The share of Americans who disapprove of the job he’s doing has ticked down, too, from 53.6 percent to 52.3 percent.

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, senior elections analyst): It’s impossible to totally disentangle all the events of the past month or so, but I think the simplest answer (which is usually the right one) is the crisis in Ukraine.

According to Marist/NPR/PBS, Biden’s approval/disapproval spread on the issue of Ukraine shot up from 34/50 in mid-February to 52/44 in early March. His overall approval/disapproval increased from 39/55 to 47/50. And according to Morning Consult/Politico, his approval/disapproval on Ukraine went from 42/45 in late February to 46/42 in early March. His overall approval/disapproval went from 41/56 to 45/51 over that same span….And I think overall media coverage has had more to do with that than the State of the Union.

ameliatd (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, senior writer): A recent Morning Consult poll indicated Democrats and independents were driving the shift in Biden’s approval

geoffrey.skelley: It’s really hard to say. Some polls have shown Biden gaining, while others have shown his approval largely unchanged. For instance, CBS News/YouGov put Biden’s approval at 44 percent in late February, and at 43 percent (so basically the same) a week and a half into March.

nrakich: Yeah, Quinnipiac also found his overall approval/disapproval mostly unchanged, from 35/55 in mid-February to 38/51 in early March, even as Americans warmed to his handling of Ukraine, which went from 34/54 to 42/45.

sarah: So … maybe Biden’s approval rating isn’t rebounding?

ameliatd: Well, I think it’s important to remember that this is happening in the context of a big spike in gas prices — which would normally be terrible news for a president’s approval rating.

ameliatd: One thing that is shifting, though, is that Americans are more likely to see Russia as an enemy and more likely to see Ukraine as a friendly country or an ally. Interestingly, that shift is happening among both Republicans and Democrats, which could explain why we’re not seeing more of a shift in Biden’s approval rating. People are having a reaction to the war — maybe even an emotional one — but it’s dampened by partisanship.

nrakich: Well, his approval rating on the pandemic has actually improved. In fact, in our coronavirus presidential approval tracker, he rose above water in early March for the first time since early January.

sarah: There’s also some evidence that Americans don’t trust Democrats to handle the pandemic as much as they once did. A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that voters thought Democrats were best able to handle the pandemic — compared to Republicans — by an 11-point margin, but that’s down 5 percentage points from mid-November….Moreover, as Geoffrey said, the pandemic isn’t the key issue it once was for voters; instead, it’s the economy. And on that issue, Biden gets abysmal ratings. Sixty-three percent of voters said they “somewhat” or “strongly” disapproved of Biden’s handling of inflation and rising costs in that Wall Street Journal poll, with 47 percent saying they thought Republicans were best equipped to handle inflation, versus 30 percent who preferred Democrats.

All of these comments could be written in sand, depending on what happens over the next few months with headline issues, like Covid, inflation and the Ukraine. There is a historic pattern of the President’s party losing seats in congress in its first midterm election. It looks like inflation will be an additional negative factor for Biden and the Democrats, while Covid and the Ukraine crisis could play out in their favor….or not.

In addition, a host of other issues, demographic factors, candidate and campaign quality, voter suppression and partisan election counts could all play a role in midterm election outcome. Even if historic patterns prevail, Biden and the Democrats can minimize the damage with smart strategy.

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