- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2022

To hear the White House tell it, President Biden is on a winning streak: Democrats survived the midterm elections better than anticipated, basketball star Brittney Griner is home after a successful prisoner swap with Russia and inflation rates are improving.

Yet voters are nonplussed. Polling shows the president’s approval rating stuck in the low 40s, where it’s been for most of the last 16 months.

The dissonance between his claims and voters’ perceptions challenges the White House’s claim that the election was a thumbs-up for the president, and could complicate his hopes of winning reelection.

“The main problem has been a sense that the administration, along with Congress, has been all over the place in terms of their issue agenda,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Most Americans feel that whatever accomplishments there may be, Washington is not focused enough on core bread-and-butter concerns.”

He said Mr. Biden‘s job approval has improved since a low point this summer “but certainly not where his people hoped it would be given what they see as his successes.”

David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said Mr. Biden has yet to solve voters’ worries over the economy.

“President Biden continues to say he knows it is challenging and things are moving in the right direction, but until people actually feel it with lower prices and an improving economy, you are going to have a cloud over the head of all these legislative accomplishments,” Mr. Paleologos said.

Mr. Biden took office last year with approval ratings at 57% in Gallup polls. He tumbled into the low 40s late last summer as he oversaw the botched withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and he has struggled to gain traction ever since.

Gallup’s most recent polling shows him at 40% approval.

Mr. Biden is unperturbed.

Brimming with confidence after his party expanded its majority in the Senate and minimized losses in the House, he said there’s “nothing” he needed to do over the next two years to convince more people that the nation is heading in the right direction.

Mr. Biden said his goals are the same that led him to run for president in 2020: to restore the soul of the nation, build the economy “from the middle out and the bottom up,” and unite the country.

“It’s hard to sustain yourself as a leading democracy in the world if you can’t generate some unity,” Mr. Biden said. “So, I’m not going to change anything in any fundamental way.”

The administration has touted victories on transportation, gun control, climate change and curbing health care costs.

Some of his backers said the problem isn’t him, it’s the polling.

“I just think we are kind of at a watershed moment in polling where pollsters really have to think about their methods to make sure they are getting an accurate sample,” said Jim Wertz, chair of the Erie County Pennsylvania Democrats. 

He blamed a “Republican propaganda machine” for hiding Mr. Biden‘s accomplishments from voters.

“It makes it incredibly difficult to kind of cut through the misinformation and for the president to promote his wins in a way that resonates with all Americans in a bipartisan way — despite his best efforts,” Mr. Wertz said.

Joe Zepecki, a Wisconsin-based Democratic strategist, said the midterms elections showed the traditional laws of “political gravity don’t apply like they used to” — including when it comes to a president’s favorable rating.

“One of the most important questions of our time is what is signal and what is noise? If you just looked at the ‘noise’ throughout 2022, Republicans were banging on this president in terms of inflation, immigration, and crime — loudly,” Mr. Zepecki said. “It was a lot of noise that seemed like it would be all bad for Democrats. But in the end, it wasn’t.”

Other analysts challenge the notion that voters were rewarding Mr. Biden in the election, saying it was more a rejection of a rudderless GOP and former President Donald Trump.

“I think the Republicans came off more extreme and when you get to that more extreme point, it is the thermostat effect where the electorate will say, ‘I don’t like where you are going. I’d like to go back to room temperature,’” said Mike Noble, an Arizona-based pollster.

Mr. Biden said he intends to run for reelection in 2024 and plans to make a final decision early next year. Mr. Trump has already announced he is running, setting up a possible rematch of the 2020 election.

It’s not clear that Democrats are eager for Mr. Biden to be their nominee.

LeWanna Heard-Tucker, chair of the Fulton County Georgia Democrats, said the post-midterm response to the prospect of a Biden reelection campaign is “mixed” between the hardcore political types who are “hoping Joe doesn’t run” and everyday voters who think Mr. Biden is “fine.”

“I think people are looking for something else with a little bit more ‘wow’ factor because we know 2024 is going to be tough,” Ms. Heard-Tucker said. “People are saying it in small circles but it is one of those things that is not what is openly said.”

“It is not like Democrats are going to air their dirty laundry in public,” she said.

Mr. Paleologos said the good news for Mr. Biden is that he has been above 50% before, so issues like his age aren’t “a permanent liability.”

“However, when things started to go bad from Afghanistan to back-to-school Covid issues to the economy going into a tailspin, then his age and his approach and his demeanor become more sticky,” the pollster said.

He added: “Until that ship of state is straightened out, it is going to be a struggle for him to be above that 50% approval.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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