President Joe Biden has enjoyed relatively high and stable popularity marks since he was inaugurated on January 20th. According to FiveThirtyEight, which tracks and weights every single poll released on Biden’s approval ratings, 53% of Americans approve of the job the president has done while only 40.6% disapprove. This is consistent with polls released by Gallup and YouGov, with the president having 54% and 49% approval ratings respectively.
Although Biden’s approval ratings are relatively low to the historical average, with the Gallup average for president’s second-quarter approval ratings being 60%, Biden has done significantly better than his predecessor Donald Trump who had an average of 38.1% approval ratings during May of 2017. Biden’s Democrats also appear to have a 9-point-lead in the Generic Congressional Ballot polls, with Quinnipiac giving them 49% to the GOP’s 40%.
On the surface, these are both great numbers and great news for the Democratic party. They were able to barely get control over Washington D.C in 2020, with Biden securing his victory by less than 50,000 votes distributed in various swing states and Democrats controlling an extremely slim majority in both the House and the Senate. If Biden and his Democrats were able to maintain these numbers until 2022, then they would have a fighting chance in the midterms, which are usually brutal against the party in power.
Issues below the surface
Despite the apparently good news, the polls might offer the Biden White House, there are some worrying (optimistic for Republicans) datapoints once you stop asking for Biden’s approval rating and start questioning his job performance on specific key issues, where his support is generally lower than the general approval marks.
A YouGov/Yahoo poll, conducted in May and to 1,588 US adults, give us some insights on the weaknesses the Biden White House has, giving a roadmap on the talking points the Republicans must follow (and Democrats avoid) if they want to win in 2022. The survey asked the respondents to give approval marks on Biden’s handing over the pandemic, the economy, foreign policy, immigration, guns, crime, climate change, and race relations.
In almost all of these questions, the president has lower marks than his general approval rating of 49%, although he has managed to still have a slim net positive approval on some issue. He holds a 45% approval rating on his handling of the economy with 42% of the population having a negative opinion, 44% of those surveyed think Biden has handled well the issue of race relations in the country, while 42% think he has done a good job in the issue of climate change a slightly higher number than the 38% who think he has not done a good job.
There is one topic where the government does have some glaring reviews, their handling of the pandemic. 54% of the public think the government is doing a good job in the way they’ve handled the COVID crisis, as little more than half of the country has been partly vaccinated and 42% have already received the full dose.
These numbers are very positive for the administration, however, Americans are less concerned about the pandemic than in other issues. While a substantial 68% of the population think the pandemic is still important, those are significantly smaller numbers than the economy (80%) or violent crime (84%), which are the two issues that most of the population think are the biggest problems the nation faces.
The good news stops there, as there are four issues where the Biden administration is being perceived as doing a poor job: immigration, foreign policy, guns, and crime.
Biden is receiving 43% disapproval on his handling of America’s foreign policy, while only 38% of the country approves it. Biden’s first months have been filled with some significant international challenges, including tensions with Russia, a rocky China-USA relationship, and the recent violent flare-up between Israel and Palestine.
The issue of immigration has also proven to be a headache for Biden, with the situation at the border being the first major crisis his administration faced only weeks after assuming office. While 36% of the population thinks the Democrat has done a good job, a significant 48% of those surveyed (including 20% of Democrats) disapprove of the work of the administration.
The president also has a negative approval rating on the way he has handled the issue of guns, with 46% of Americans disapproving and only 35% approving. However, the number that should be concerning Democrats the most are those related to the approval the government is receiving on the issue of violent crime.
As violent crime surges in major cities around the country, the Biden administration is receiving a lukewarm 36% approval rating on the way is tackling the issue, while 44% of those surveyed thinking the president has done a bad job. Another complicated datapoint for the Democrats is that a majority of Americans (and 43% of Democrats) think that one of the reasons why violent crime is rising is the racial justice movement, a statistic that might bring some strains between the leadership and the progressive base of the Democratic party.
Based on these numbers, although Biden remains fairly popular for most Americans there are still various weak spots that the GOP could exploit in the road to the midterms. As the COVID crisis (hopefully) subsides the Republicans will have a better chance at landing effective attacks on Biden’s record on immigration and crime, which could prove significant for their chances to regain Congress.
Polls are not a crystal ball. They represent a snapshot of the country at a given moment and the midterms are still more than a year away. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that political operatives on both sides of the aisle will be keeping a close eye on the polls and start crafting a message that is aimed to maximize their chances at winning in 2022.