In The News Quiz November 8, 2021

Should Democrats Care About President Biden’s Approval Rating?

President Biden’s approval rating—measured several times each month by various polling organizations, in a nation obsessed with public opinion standing—sank last week to 42 percent in an NBC poll, the lowest of his presidency. Fifty-four percent of American adults said they disapproved of Biden’s overall performance as president. Indeed, at the ten-month mark only one president in modern times scored lower in public esteem: Donald Trump, who polled at 37 percent in late October of his first presidential year (2017).

Biden’s plunge in popularity—down seven percentage points since late August—raises several questions. Is, as one news headline blared, the “Biden presidency in free-fall?” Does the president’s sagging public opinion rating imperil his legislative priorities on Capitol Hill, where Democrats hold a slender majority in both House and Senate? And, speaking of that majority, might low Biden poll numbers now translate into electoral disaster next November, when midterm elections will decide which party controls Congress?

Political scientists attribute the presidential drop in the polls to a combination of events: COVID’s continued toll across the late summer and into fall, the botched U.S. military pull-out from Afghanistan, and slow job growth along with rising inflation. President Biden has also failed to ignite his party’s most passionate supporters, many of them on the progressive left. Biden seemed unconcerned, remarking “I didn’t run [for president] to determine how well I’m going to do in the polls.”

With major legislative initiatives—an infrastructure bill (see 9/13/21 ‘In the News’) and domestic-programs spending measure—both expected to be voted on soon in Congress, Biden’s declining favorability comes at a bad time politically. But major legislative achievements have boosted presidents in public opinion before. President Reagan threw his weight behind a package of economic reforms in Congress in 1984, and their apparent success (or a rising economy independent of those policy changes; economic historians differ) helped lift his opinion ratings to the highest of his early presidency.

As for the midterm elections next year, Democrats have reason to be concerned. A sitting president’s party nearly always loses House and Senate seats in a midterm—except when the president is polling at or above 50 percent popularity. Many factors are involved in any Senate or House race, of course, but a president falling in the polls can be a drag on their party’s candidates.

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Quiz Content

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. In considering how public opinion might usefully guide government decisions, each of these conditions must be met except which one?

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. Which pair of U.S. presidents tied for the highest public approval ratings since modern polling began in the 1950s? (And how high was their rating?)

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. As noted in The Economist's article above, which of these issues is now viewed by the American public as more important compared to when Joe Biden took office in January 2021?

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. According to the Bekiempis & Pengelly article, which political foe of Joe Biden nonetheless called the president's spending plan "the most consequential piece of legislation in the modern history of this country"?

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