George Barisich isn’t surprised by recent reports that President Joe Biden’s approval rating among Americans has continued to drop. A commercial fisherman outside New Orleans, Barisich has never been a Biden fan.
“I didn’t like him from the start, and it looks like the rest of the country is figuring out what I knew all along,” he told VOA.
An aggregate of national polling compiled by the website FiveThirtyEight showed the president’s approval rating reached almost 55% in May. Since then, his popularity has dropped significantly. A Quinnipiac University poll from last week showed only 38% of its respondents approved of President Biden’s performance, with 53% disapproving.
Robert Collins, professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard University in New Orleans said a combination of issues is driving those declining numbers, from America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan to his administration’s handling of near-record high migration to the United States.
“Only 23% of respondents approved of his performance regarding the border crisis,” Collins said. “That’s a disaster.”
Barisich said he’s noticed a drop in enthusiasm for Biden even among his backers.
“I was gifted these ‘President Trump’ socks I like to wear sometimes,” he said, laughing. “Up until recently, the Biden supporters I know would give me crap about them and tell me all the great things they thought the president was doing. Lately, though, they’ve been a lot more quiet.”
“The primary drop in Biden’s approval ratings [is] due to the Mexican border crisis, the servicemen lost in Afghanistan and the slow pace of the economic recovery,” Collins explained. “In the past, the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been his ace in the hole, but even his approval rating there has dropped below 50%.”
Biden’s approval rating regarding his handling of pandemic topped out at 65% earlier this year, according to a May Quinnipiac poll. Their most recent poll has that number at 48%.“
It’s a massive drop,” Collins said.
The numbers get even worse on other topics. An August NBC News poll found 64% of independent voters polled felt Biden had accomplished “only some or very little in office.”
“I think he set unrealistic goals, and he definitely didn’t appreciate how bad things were at the border,” said New Orleanian Mary Chaput. A moderate voter, Chaput said she voted for Biden last year, but doesn’t imagine she’ll vote for him again.
“In the past, he was someone who seemed to work well with Republicans as well as Democrats. But I think this is a different time, and he didn’t appreciate how difficult it would be to do that now,” she said.
Voters may want to see more from Biden, but his declining popularity has further complicated Democrats’ efforts to enact sweeping legislation, including a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that would massively expand America’s safety net.
Sticking with Biden
Disenchantment with Biden is far from universal. College professor Alex Hamman voted for Biden last year and said he’s likely to vote for him again.
“I’ve voted for Republicans in the past, but I just can’t imagine casting a ballot for anyone in today’s Republican Party,” he told VOA.
Hamman believes many of Biden’s struggles are a spillover from the actions and policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“He basically ran against the Trump agenda, which means he has to fix all the past garbage instead of working on his own priorities. We have short memories, though, and we need to see new things accomplished,” he said.
A silver lining for the president is that much of his agenda remains popular, especially among independent voters, who helped him win the presidency last year. Fifty-seven percent of independents favor a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal supported by the president. Meanwhile, 48% of independents support Biden’s $3.5 trillion package for social programs, while 37% oppose it.
Currently neither bill has cleared Congress.
“He needs to cut a deal with the politicians in his own party and get a win,” Collins said. “And these particular wins would be two-fold. They’ll help the president build momentum, but also, they’ll create jobs. During peacetime, nothing is more important for approval ratings than the economy.”
Biden’s economic performance numbers have also sagged to 39% in the recent Quinnipiac poll.
A matter of trust
“I voted for Biden because I wanted to get Trump out of the White House,” Hamman said, “but I also voted for Biden because I think he’s a decent guy and about as honest as I expect any politician to be.”
Unfortunately for the president, in addition to matters of policy, the approval of important character traits — once a Biden strength in the eyes of voters — has also declined. A month before the 2020 election, a Gallup poll found that 52% of Americans saw then-candidate Biden as honest and trustworthy, while only 40% found Trump to be.
By contrast, 44% of respondents in last week’s Quinnipiac poll found Biden to be honest; half of respondents said he was not.
“Polling numbers on trust are normally a sign of people believing the president is hiding something from them,” Collins said, adding that the falling numbers could stem from Biden’s insistence that no one counseled him to delay the pullout from Afghanistan, an assertion contradicted by top U.S. military commanders.
“But trust isn’t only a function of honesty. It’s a function of communication and transparency, too. More press conferences and direct communication with the American people so they understand what’s happening on a day-to-day basis could help,” the professor said.
Barisich agreed. “You never see him or hear from him,” he said. “How can you trust a guy that always seems to be in hiding?”
Looking to rebound
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Biden has a lower approval rating at this point in his presidency than all but two presidents since 1945, one of whom was Trump. Collins said it should be a reason for concern for the president but not a cause for panic.
“Any experienced politician knows that during the term of a president, poll numbers will be all over the place,” he said. “The only poll that really matters is the poll taken on Election Day, and we’re still a long way from that.”
The midterm elections will take place next year, but Collins cautioned that midterm elections tend to favor the political party not in control of the White House, regardless of the popularity of the sitting president.
Whether Biden will seek reelection in 2024 remains to be seen. Rebounding from his current polling numbers will be vital for a second term in office. He could also get a boost from a familiar rival.
In the 2020 campaign, Trump’s negative ratings foreshadowed large numbers of independents voting for Biden. Even though many Americans are dissatisfied with Biden’s record, the idea of Trump or one of his allies running in 2024 could keep moderate voters open to reelecting Biden.
“If Trump or a ‘Trump person’ ran, I’d have to hold my nose and vote for Biden again,” explained Chaput, “but I really hope the Democrats will nominate someone else instead.”