The Media Is All Wrong About Biden’s Poor Polling

The signs of Biden’s inherent unpopularity were present from the beginning of his presidency. Just two weeks into Biden’s term, the
New York Times was noting

that while he had a broad positive approval rating, his didn’t come close to that of Barack Obama on inauguration day, and his net approval rating was lower than any of his predecessors except Trump. Biden remained popular for the first six months of his presidency, the “honeymoon” presidents get, but then began the slide that now places him at 38 percent favorable in an average of
17 polls calculated

by the Washington Post.

By September 2021, as the Biden dip became palpable, the press assembled to make excuses for him. In the New York Times,
columnist Jamelle Bouie

provided what he called a “laundry list” of reasons for the anti-Biden mood: The Covid pandemic; backlash over the Afghanistan withdrawal; and growing polarization. A month later, the
Associated Press

attributed the dip to a “slew of challenges” Biden had faced, including Covid, Afghanistan, legislative drama over his economic policies and trouble at the border. A month after that,
USA Today endorsed

the AP’s explanation. The trouble was in the stars, not necessarily with Joe Biden, the press largely surmised.

Later, inflation was ascribed blame for Biden’s bad numbers, but now that inflation is down, that plea no longer works. By last summer, the commentariat was grasping at straws. In July,
New York magazine’s Eric Levitz

pronounced Biden’s unpopularity as “mysterious,” and speculated that his problem might be that while he “has delivered material improvements to voters,” he had failed addressed the nation’s “widespread sense of despair.” The
New York Times Ross Douthat

addressed the topic in September, confessing that it’s “hard to distill a singular explanation for what’s kept his numbers low.” It could be inflation, he speculates, or the “social-issues undertow” that’s punishing some Democrats. More recently,
Vox’s Andrew Prokop

offered the view that “voters have come to doubt Biden’s competence, and many are attributing that perceived lack of competence to his age.” This argument finds support in a
recent New York Times poll

that discovered an unnamed “Democratic candidate” could beat Trump handily, while Biden vs. Trump would result in a Trump victory.

Could it be that it’s not policy or circumstances that voters are rejecting, but that it’s Biden? The tough truth for Biden, one that the press seems to have avoided, is that he has always been unpopular. Although he has long been in the public eye — he served avuncularly as a U.S. senator for 36 years before becoming vice president — being the toast of Delaware, which is the second smallest state and the sixth least populous, doesn’t readily convert into national acclaim. His 1988 campaign for president ended abruptly, as he
dropped out

of the race after three months amid a plagiarism scandal. Then in the 2008 presidential campaign, he found such low favor among voters that he placed
fifth in the Iowa caucuses

and then exited.

In the 2020 contest, running in a crowded primary field, Biden
rarely broke the 30 percent

mark. Biden won the nomination not because he was popular but because he was running as a centrist in a field clogged with progressives. He also had the good political fortune to emerge as the last moderate candidate standing against socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders. Establishment Democrats didn’t love Joe as much as they disliked Sanders and wanted a candidate around whom they could coalesce.

Meanwhile, Biden’s victory over Trump in the general election wasn’t a mandate on his popularity. It was a flight to safety for a nation fed up with a meshuga president. Biden was merely the vegetable voters convinced themselves they had to eat in order to rid themselves of Trump.

No amount of repackaging Biden’s first-term accomplishments will boost him to the top of the charts. In September, the
New York Times reported

that the White House plans to polish Biden’s image by showcasing “his vigor.” Good luck with that.

None of this is to suggest that Biden can’t possibly beat Trump in 2024; he’s done it before, after all. As the
Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein

wrote last spring, Biden’s unpopularity might not matter as long as voters hate the other guy enough. But if he’s looking for a guaranteed way to move his numbers up, he should do what President Lyndon Johnson did in 1968. Johnson dropped out of the presidential contest and by the time he exited the White House, he was close to regaining a
50 percent approval


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