President Biden suffers another tough week; Will it affect Democrats in November?


They say bad news often comes in stacks, and that was the case with President Biden this past week: a dismal new poll, another dismal inflation report, and a backlash on legislation. As he traveled through the Middle East, the home front remained politically aflame.

The dismal poll came from the New York Times and Siena College. The three worst parts were: Biden’s approval rating was 33 percent; only 13 percent of Americans say the country is moving in the right direction; and 64 percent of Democrats say they would prefer someone else to be the party’s nominee in 2024. On the other hand, he was three percentage points ahead of Donald Trump in a rematch in 2024.

The economic report showed prices rose 9.1 percent year-on-year, a four-decade high. It was the latest reminder of how stubborn this supposedly temporary inflation has proved and why it continues to be the top issue for voters when they think about November’s midterm elections. Gas prices have fallen recently, but perhaps not enough to sway voters’ attitudes.

The legislative backlash sounded familiar. Senator Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) decided to halt ongoing negotiations on a stripped-down version of Biden’s Build Back Better bill. Manchin balked at the president’s desire to spend money on fighting climate change. A year ago, that larger bill stalled when Manchin said he couldn’t participate. Democrats hope something on health care, including reducing the cost of prescription drugs, can eventually be passed. Whatever comes out, if it does, may not impress voters as much as White House officials had hoped.

It’s easy to interpret all of this as further evidence that the Democrats are headed for a bombing in November’s midterm elections. The political climate remains more than worrying for the party in power. With Republicans only needing five seats to take control of the House, most Democrats concede that they will be in the minority in the House and possibly the Senate beginning in January.

The catch comes with the question of how large this new Republican majority might be. Here the forecasts are rather gloomy. Biden’s approval ratings alone point to a stellar year for Republicans, and some in the GOP are dovish in their predictions. But how much does Biden’s perception relate to the choices some voters will make about their choices in November?

One result of the Times-Siena poll that didn’t get much attention was voter preference for the outcome at home races. The poll found that 41 percent said they would rather see Democrats in power after the November election, compared with 40 percent who said they would prefer a Republican-led House of Representatives. Among the likely voters, Republicans led by 44 to 43 percent.

The RealClearPolitics average of what pollsters call the generic poll question — a long-standing measure that asks voters whether they would vote Republican or Democrat in their home race — currently shows the GOP with a 1.9 percentage point advantage .

Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz analyzed 27 such polls conducted since June 1, which showed Republicans by a 2.5 percentage point lead. He then separated them into those that are demonstrably pro-Republican and those that are generally more neutral. The pro-Republican polls showed a GOP lead of 7.5 points. The others estimate the Republican lead at 0.4 points. Democrats are doing even better on average in polls since July 1, or after the Supreme Court decision on abortion.

Democrats generally need to have a clear lead in the polls to be comfortable with their prospects, as they did in 2018 when they took control of the House of Representatives. In 2010, post-ABC News polls put the Democrats about even or slightly ahead of the Republicans on this issue, and the GOP still had a major win. The more recent polls suggest that there is some movement in the electorate that could affect the size of Republican gains.

Clearly, many people, including many who voted for Biden in 2020, have lost confidence in his leadership. His approval rating among Democrats in the Times Siena poll was 70 percent, below what might be expected in such a polarized country.

There are many reasons for voter dissatisfaction. Inflation eats away at family income; a president bears the brunt of this concern. The pandemic appears to be having a profound impact on many aspects of life and work, adding to the unease. There is a widespread feeling that the state is not working. All of this works against the Democrats.

But for many swing voters, the prospect of Republican control may not be all that enticing either. As Nate Silver recently put it, “Voters have good reason to reject Biden without wanting Republicans in Congress.”

The GOP is still under the thumb of former President Donald Trump, who has convinced many in his party to stand up for the lies he continues to spread about the 2020 election. The Jan. 6 committee hearings have drawn heightened attention to Trump’s pivotal role in efforts to overturn the election.

The prospect of a new GOP majority in the House of Representatives focused on retaliation rather than government might not excite swing voters who already have sour stances on the way Washington operates. At the state level, Republican evaders are seeking office and threats to democracy continue.

Additionally, other issues could help Democrats in competitive house races. The Supreme Court ruling on abortion will sway the votes of some, and perhaps many, voters who disagree with the court’s overturning Roe v. calf. Mass shootings and the GOP’s opposition to stricter gun laws are another factor some suburban voters might consider.

If this is an election wave year, Republicans should be confident of taking control of a Senate now split 50-50, even if the map isn’t as favorable to them as it will be in a few years. But they have flawed or vulnerable candidates in three states where they are defending seats: Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, JD Vance in Ohio and incumbent Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. They also risk missing an opportunity to snag a Georgia seat due to the erratic performance of GOP nominee Herschel Walker.

Republicans could still swap Senate seats held by Democrats in Arizona and Nevada. Perhaps their flawed candidates will prevail if the Republican tide overwhelms them. But the GOP hasn’t fielded strong candidates in the spots they need them most.

There is no question that Biden is a burden on Democrats this fall, and he has done nothing in recent months to change that. If anything, his reputation has weakened. If this election is purely a presidential referendum, the Democrats will suffer, and perhaps suffer significantly.

The question remains how much. And at that, Republicans aren’t doing much to help themselves, and Trump could do worse. GOP leaders prefer an election that focuses on Biden, not the past, and not Trump. The former president must not grant them their wish. Announcing his 2024 candidacy before November, as he is implying, would put him back in the election conversation in a way that could crowd out other GOP messages.

Democrats are hoping that the January 6, 2021 House hearings, the attack on the Capitol, will dampen the enthusiasm of some Republican voters. They also hope that the roe Decision will generate more enthusiasm from their base. It is too early to know the answer to both sides of this equation. The perception of the President seems fixed. Whether other factors at play now will marginally improve the Democrats’ standing is the question. President Biden suffers another tough week; Will it affect Democrats in November?

James Brien

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