Victory in Defeat: What They Won’t Say about Biden’s Approval Rating


President Joe Biden During an Interview | Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wiki Commons

Joe Biden rode into his presidency through a historic victory in 2020, with the highest turnout ever seen in a 21st Century presidential election. With 17 million more people voting in 2020 than did in 2016, Biden’s victory was a sign of an overwhelming and impressive level of support. But as the midterms are approaching, the Biden administration’s support appears to be waning, and with it, questions over his plan’s success are rising. Can Biden deliver on the bold vision many of his supporters want, or will he flounder and lose to a returning Trump presidency in 2024?

When determining an administration’s support, it is important to consider a few factors. First and foremost are the historical trends of previous presidents. A poll can tell you a lot about an administration’s success, but it cannot tell you the significance of those numbers if it is not compared to other presidents facing similar situations.

The Presidential Portrait of Joe Biden | Photo Credit: Adam Schultz via Wiki Commons

Biden has seen his poll numbers decline significantly. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that Biden’s approval rating fell to 38%, down from 42% just three weeks earlier. Though Biden fell in the polls, he retains a strong level of support from Democrats, among whom 80% approve. Still, independents and Republicans have significantly less support for him, per that same poll. Just 4% of Republicans and 32% of independents approve of Biden and his administration. But there is a bigger picture here.

For one, the Quinnipiac poll is not representative of Biden’s average polling. It is one poll. While other polls do put Biden on the decline, the degree to which he is declining and when it is happening reveals far more than most would admit.

Former presidents Trump and Obama saw declines in their approval ratings within the first 261 days of their administration, with Trump’s polling averages significantly lower than President Biden’s. FiveThirtyEight, a conservative polling website, shows that on his 261st in office, Trump’s average approval rating was as low as 38.1 percent compared to Biden’s average of 44.2 percent. This means that the Biden administration, even with their declining polling, still outperforms his predecessor.

The Delta Variant and the withdrawal from Afghanistan are partially to blame for Biden’s decline, and it is guaranteed to be used in the midterms, but that does not mean Biden’s presidency will end in 2024. Quite the opposite. While Biden will likely lose his supermajority, that does not mean that he will not see some improvement in the future.

While it may seem counterintuitive, losing power is not always the same thing as losing everything. As Deborah Stone rightfully notes in Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision (2012), having an opposition to fight is a useful rhetorical strategy. A person can benefit from having an opposition to blame, justified or not. Despite a decline in his approval rating early on, Obama was still able to maintain a healthy approval rating above 40% after the midterm elections.

What matters now is how Biden reacts to the midterms, win or lose. If he manages to keep his cards close to his chest, appeal to his base and ride the increasing tide of vaccination rates, he can stave off the consequences of the delta variant. And with time, maybe even stave off the controversy of Afghanistan. Biden may be unpopular now, but he is far from being a one-term president.