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The Biden Problem and the Midterm Elections

Photograph Source: Palácio do Planalto – CC BY 2.0

To win the midterm elections, Democrats must address the problem of President Biden’s poor approval ranking with voters. The public’s support of a candidate for office is based on their perception of their personality and competence. But for over 90% of the voting population, that perception is tied to the party they represent, Republican or Democrat. In the 2020 election, less than 3% voted for a presidential candidate outside those two parties.

As sitting president, Joe Biden is the head of his party. Although former President Donald Trump is out of office, the public still sees him as the Republican party’s leader. Consequently, their stature shapes how voters value that party and their party’s candidates in the midterm elections.

Although Biden and Trump are not on the ballot this November, speculation abounds on whether either will run in 2024. Despite their extreme policy differences, they are more alike than any of their potential in-party challengers, except for 80-year-old Senator Bernie Sanders. They are old men. Only three years separate Biden, who is 79, and Trump at 76. Their legacies and persona will help or hinder their party. Consequently, they present a challenge for candidates campaigning in local districts and states.

Regardless of Biden’s optimism, the generally accepted view by those inside and outside either party is that the Democrats are likely to lose majorities in both Congressional chambers. This expectation, in part, is due to the historical trend where the president’s party losses seats in the midterm elections. Since World War II, the president’s party has lost an average of 26 seats in the House and an average of four seats in the Senate. Moreover, President Obama’s first midterm election saw the largest number of seats lost in the House (62) since FDR’s midterm in his second term when the Democrats lost 72 seats in the House.

Biden’s plummeting approval rating reinforces the belief that this trend will continue. His rating is about on the same level that Trump had when he lost his reelection, and the Republicans lost both houses of Congress in 2020.

In a January 2022 Quinnipiac University survey President Biden’s job approval was rated at 35% by all voters. The lowest they found for Donald Trump as president was 33%. Senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, Sean Trende, is not optimistic for the Democrats. He sees a Biden rating at or below 42% as giving virtually no chance for Democrats to hold the Senate and predicts a loss of four seats as the most likely outcome. Even if Biden’s job approval falls below 51%, Trende sees a likely Republican-controlled Senate in 2023.

Biden’s support by democrats has also fallen from 82% last year to 73% in April of this year. Some candidates facing tough federal elections have avoided calling in Biden to help. One of them is Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, who is running in a high-profile race against Trump-endorsed author J.D. Vance for the open senate seat.

Biden’s support among his strongest supporters, Black and Hispanic voters, has weakened since being in office. In the 2020 presidential election, Biden received 92% of Black and 59% of Hispanic voters.

Washington Post-Ipsos poll  found that the share of Black voters who say they are “absolutely certain to vote” this November has dropped from 85 percent in 2020 to 62 percent this year, a 23-point drop that is larger than the 12-point drop among White voters. The poll also showed that 12 percent of Black voters say what President Biden had been doing in office is somewhat or very bad. If that percentage of disgruntled voters with the Democratic party is reflected in Ohio and Georgia, which have many black voters, the Democrats will not win those Senate seats.

Meanwhile, more than any other racial or ethnic group, Hispanics have drifted away from Biden, according to FiveThirtyEight’s aggregation of all available polls. In one recent survey from The Wall Street Journal, Hispanic voters were about evenly split between Republicans and Democrats on the question of which party they intended to support in next year’s midterms.

Since a disproportionate percentage of Blacks and Hispanics are lower-paid wage workers, they were most affected by Covid restrictions. A recession may cause them to think twice about whether the Democrats can best help them.

Equis Research is a progressive data firm dedicated to analyzing Hispanic voters. Their 2021 poll found that two-thirds of Hispanic 2020 voters voiced approval for Donald Trump’s position on reopening the economy, while 55 percent endorsed his view that Americans should “live without fear of COVID.” In addition, many Hispanics work in industries adversely impacted by shutdown orders, such as hospitality and food service.

Concern about the economy may be affecting minority young voters in particular since they are just entering the job market for less-skilled jobs. In 2020, Biden won college-educated Hispanic voters 69% to 30%. But Biden’s advantage over Trump among Hispanic voters who did not have a college degree was far narrower (55% to 41%). These voters could feel disappointed by Biden since the future is not as bright as he promised. For instance, according to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll, younger Black Americans are significantly less enthusiastic about the president than older ones.

Biden has achieved a remarkable turnaround from an economy sinking under the Covid pandemic’s impact. He dramatically increased job creation and reduced unemployment. The unemployment rate dropped from 6.2% when he took office to 3.9%. That was the biggest single year drop in American history. In addition, when the Biden took office, over 18 million were receiving unemployment benefits; as of January 2022, only 2 million are. Again, that is the biggest single year drop in history.

Although an economist poll taken this June found that 56% of Americans believe the US is currently in a recession, a May Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that 86% of Americans are still satisfied with their lives.

The impact of inflationary prices is easily noticed at the gas pump and the grocery store. However, suppose the Democrats can build on most Americans’ satisfaction. In that case, they have a chance of placing inflation in the context of an overall better life for most and helping them win elections.

Democrats need to build on Biden’s message that the Democrats can turn America back to normal. A more stable society and economy can be created with less political divisiveness. Neither has been achieved, but Democrats have made valent efforts. They can reasonably argue that the Republicans, although not controlling Congress, have blocked them. That may be factually true but blaming the Republicans can only go so far. It doesn’t inspire people; it’s seen as an excuse for failure.

If a recession and growing inflation continue to dominate the media, Biden will be blamed no matter what he does. But, as the president, the buck stops with him. That means the Democrats must graciously acknowledge his leadership and present a new, more vibrant message for their campaigns this November.

If they champion their popularly accepted and rational abortion access, gun control, immigration protocols, and criminal reform policies, they can hold onto their base among minorities. That approach will also repeat Biden’s success in attracting more independent and Republican-leaning voters than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, allowing Democrats to win their elections.

Looking down the road, the Democrats need to encourage Biden to guide their party to select a new messenger in 2024 if he cannot sharpen his image and message.

And the Republicans – face an even greater problem with Donald Trump!