Democrats’ unease comes from knowing President Biden is closer to President Trump than to President Obama. They know that in order to succeed, Biden must be closer to Obama than to Trump. What they do not know is how America will view Biden once they have known him longer and the going gets tougher.
Looking broadly at Biden’s polling numbers, they appear pretty good – especially in comparison to Trump’s. Real Clear Politics’s average of national polling on March 15, showed Biden with 53 percent approval and 42 percent disapproval. Such a positive spread seems a comfortable margin.
Looking inside those numbers though shows cause for concern. Among RCP’s eight listed polls, only one, Rasmussen, polled likely voters (those filtered by pollsters as most likely to vote). How do we know this? I clicked on the Rasmussen link but didn’t see anything but the results; the rest at best polled registered voters (those able to vote). Of course, the people who put Biden in office are those who actually voted; they are also the ones who could take him out in four years.
In Rasmussen’s March 10 results, Biden’s approval was just 50 percent and his disapproval 48 percent. This is still better than where Trump was on the same day in 2017 (underwater at 48-52 percent), but a far sight from where Obama was on the same day in 2009 (56-43 percent). Despite the favorable comparison that won Biden the White House, Biden is closer to Trump than he is to Obama.
Looking deeper into the numbers shows the same reason for concern. Biden’s “strong approval” is 34 percent, but his “strong disapproval” is 39 percent. Again, Trump was reversed here too, 32-43 percent. And Obama? He was positive: 38-32 percent.
In all these categories, Biden is closer to Trump than to Obama. There are other causes for concern too. Biden’s overall approval rating is below his November popular vote percentage. Also, Biden’s overall disapproval rating is one percentage point higher than Trump’s November popular vote percentage. Looking at Biden’s strong approval rating, it is just two percentage points higher than Trump’s four years ago, and his strong disapproval rating is just four percentage points better than Trump’s.
Biden’s weak showing comes despite his favorable juxtaposition to Trump. Trump was always a polarizing political figure and this greatly aided Biden’s 2020 bid. Then the Jan. 6 Capitol riot managed to take Trump even lower. Yet despite this advantage, Biden’s polling numbers show little to none of it.
Before long, Trump will cease being a valid benchmark; he is no longer president, Biden is. Further, Trump is hardly Democrats’ goal; after all, he lost reelection. Obama, who won reelection, is the standard they want Biden meeting.
Nor did Obama have an enormous advantage over Biden – other than being Obama. Obama took office with the economy in bad shape from the financial crisis; unlike Biden, whose economy was rebounding before he took office, Obama’s was still falling.
Biden should have had a tailwind on taking office. Following one of the worst years in recent American history, people wanted a change and should have been poised to support Biden turning the page. Yet the numbers do not show that less than two months after Biden’s inauguration.
If this is the honeymoon, what will Biden’s first spat with the American people look like? More specifically, what will Biden’s numbers look like if he has to confront a combative Republican Congress, either during the next two years or after the 2022 midterms? Democrats must worry that this could be as good as it gets. And while it is not terrible, it is a long, long way from the Obama they need.
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.