Princeton professor explains what Biden’s low poll numbers could mean for 2024

Princeton professor explains what Biden’s low poll numbers could mean for 2024
US President Joe Biden welcomes Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (not pictured) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Since late August, more Americans disapprove of Biden’s job performance than approve of it. And now, more than half of Americans fall into that disapprove category.

Are Biden’s polling numbers bad?

  • When you consider that less than 40% of Americans disapproved of his job performance throughout the first few months of his presidency, then the current approval ratings are a notch down for the president.
  • Regardless, though, it’s not great news, and the Biden team seem to be trying pretty hard to fix it.

Why are his polling numbers this low?

  • In a TMS exclusive, Dr. Lauren Wright, a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, explained that Biden’s low approval ratings are easy to misdiagnose.
  • “There are a couple of mistakes that are easy to make when assessing Biden’s approval that I see a lot lately,” she said. “One is the assumption that his low numbers can be only attributed to whatever is happening in the country right this minute, when in fact Biden’s numbers have been dropping steadily since the delta variant came to the forefront last summer.”
  • Dr. Wright pointed to the issues such as masks and social distancing where the administration was forced to reverse its position in a way that was politically detrimental.
  • She said that the “calamitous withdrawal in Afghanistan” and “surges of migrants at the border” are also both important issues, even if they’ve faded from the headlines.
  • “Second, and related, is the misguided idea that Biden’s approval would bounce back once the infrastructure bill passed, or now once Build Back Better passes,” she said. “There really isn’t any evidence that the public rewards presidential administrations for legislative success.”
  • She said that ultimately, Biden’s approval rating might rely on something like inflation going back down. “Presidents often give the impression that they control these things, but they really don’t.”

What are the midterms, again?

  • The midterm elections happen in the middle of every presidential election year. And since there was a presidential election in 2020, the midterm is coming up in November of 2022.
  • These are super important because every member of the House of Representatives is up for reelection in these midterms, along with about a third of the Senate.
  • So pretty much every single time there’s a midterm election, there’s a chance that one or both chambers of Congress will see a change in the party in charge.
  • All of these things happen in presidential election years, too, except they typically get overlooked by the presidential election going on.
  • But there’s a lot to take away from the results of a midterm election. For example, if the president’s party loses seats, it can sometimes mean that they need to switch things up before the presidential election.

What does this mean for the 2022 midterm elections?

  • Dr. Wright said that Democrats’ chances of holding onto Congress after the midterms are slim. “But,” she added, “running as a Democrat with an unpopular Democrat in the White House is not an ideal position to be in.”
  • To put this into perspective, the Democratic majority in the House is razor-thin; Republicans would only have to flip five seats to become the majority party.
  • The Democratic majority in the Senate is even slimmer, with the chamber being split down the middle and the tiebreaking vote being Vice President Kamala Harris, tipping the Senate to the left.
  • That said, in both the 1998 and the 2002 midterms, the sitting president had a pretty decent approval rating and actually saw marginal gains in the House and no losses in the Senate.
  • So, at least in theory, if Biden managed to pull his approval ratings up a little bit, then it would probably help the Democrats’ chances too.

What about the 2024 election?

  • Well, there’s one big thing you have to keep in mind when talking about the 2024 election, and that’s that we don’t yet know who is even running for president yet.
  • That said, Biden has indicated he plans to run again, though it isn’t clear if he’s saying this simply to avoid the appearance of being a lame duck president, which would make it harder for him to pass his legislative agenda.
  • And while Donald Trump hasn’t concretely announced his campaign, he has hinted heavily at his ambitions to run again in the future.
  • For Republicans, this could be dicey, though, since according to Dr. Wright, Trump might not be their best candidate. “If anything he is the only candidate Democrats know they can beat,” she said.
  • “The flip side of this equation is also really important, though,” she said. “Saying Democrats can beat Trump is not the same as saying any Democrat can beat Trump.”
  • “Democrats’ success in national elections, and Republicans’ for that matter, depends on whether they can rally around a candidate that appeals to moderate and Independent voters like Biden was able to in 2020.”

What’s next?

  • Biden is still trying to get his Build Back Better plan through Congress, which, at least in theory, would mean that Democrats have some concrete things to say to voters that they did right while in power.
  • But as Dr. Wright pointed out, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Biden’s approval rating will go up, nor does it mean that the Democrats won’t lose Congress, just that it will help their chances.
  • Dr. Wright also emphasized that 2024 is still very much up in the air, saying that “the truth is we really have no idea what the landscape will look like this far ahead of time or even after the midterms.”

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