Over his first nine months in office, President Biden has lost support among Americans of all stripes — men and women, Black voters and white voters, Zoomers and Baby Boomers. Even Democrats writ large are more disenchanted. But two groups with whom Biden has lost support stand out: independents and Hispanics. Independents have soured on Biden to the extent that his approval ratings among this group approach the strongly negative ratings they gave then-President Donald Trump at the same point in his presidency, while increased disapproval of Biden among Hispanics could signal they are moving further away from Democrats after they shifted somewhat toward Trump and the GOP last November.
Of course, it’s not that unusual for a president’s approval rating to drop over the course of the first nine months in office. A president’s “honeymoon period” has usually ended by then, as opposition to the president’s agenda coalesces and the new administration’s actions spark criticism. As the chart below shows, most recent presidents have seen their approval ratings fall after their first few months in office, although there have been some notable exceptions.
For instance, Biden, Trump and Barack Obama all experienced clear descents during their first nine months in office, albeit from different starting points: Biden has fallen from the mid-50s to the mid-40s, Obama fell from the mid-to-high 60s to the low 50s, and Trump fell from the mid-40s to the high 30s. But former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush didn’t really follow this pattern. Clinton’s approval rating did decline a few months into his presidency, but in a possible sign of hope for Biden, Clinton’s approval rating ticked back up after hitting the summer doldrums. Meanwhile, in 2001, Bush’s approval rating didn’t change much until it skyrocketed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a textbook example of the “rally-around-the-flag effect.”
But our hyperpolarized political environment could make it challenging for Biden to regain the support he’s lost since taking office. In fact, while Biden’s approval rating has seemingly stabilized in the mid-to-low 40s, there’s also no indication that his approval rating is about to bounce back. And part of that comes down to Biden’s rough numbers among independents and Hispanics, in addition to his standing on important issues like COVID-19 and the economy.
Perhaps the most obvious place where Biden has lost support is among independents. Across the polls we collected that measured support by party ID, Biden’s approval has dropped from 50 percent among independents in the late spring and early summer, to below 35 percent now, as the chart below details. His slides among Democrats and Republicans haven’t been nearly as sizable.
It’s true that Republicans never gave Biden much of a chance and that most independents lean toward one party, but independents are still more politically malleable than Democrats or Republicans. In that sense, it’s a real problem for Biden that the most moveable group of voters now largely disapproves of the job he is doing as president.
Biden’s sharp decline among independents also seems related to what has often been Americans’ number-one concern since Biden took office: the COVID-19 pandemic. This has surely hurt Biden with most groups of Americans, but independents’ dissatisfaction with Biden’s handling of the pandemic has been particularly pronounced. In early June, almost 60 percent of independents approved of Biden’s response to the coronavirus, but that has now fallen to just below 42 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s coronavirus approval tracker.
Independents are also especially dissatisfied with how Biden is handling the economy. Granted, this week The Economist/YouGov found only 41 percent of Americans approved of Biden’s handling of jobs and the economy, while a brand-new Politico/Morning Consult survey found just 41 percent of registered voters approved of his handling of the economy. But this is a drop from where his numbers stood on these issues in early June, when The Economist/YouGov polling had him 8 percentage points higher and Politico/Morning Consult polling had him 6 points higher. Yet independents have been even more displeased with Biden’s handling of the economy, as their approval on that issue fell from the low 40s in June to around 30 percent more recently.
Garnering support from independents is important because it helps a president achieve overall popularity, but support from the base is vital too — and it’s another spot where Biden is in trouble. While his job approval rating among Democrats remains very high, it has dipped from 90 percent in the early summer to the low 80s now, with signs of deteriorating support among Black and Hispanic Americans, who are more likely to identify as Democratic than white Americans. As the chart below shows, there has been a drop in support for Biden among all three racial and ethnic groups we measured, but the drop among Hispanics — from the high 60s to slightly below 50 percent — marks Biden’s most precipitous decline.
Recent polling suggests that Hispanic approval of Biden’s handling of the pandemic and the economy has fallen sharply. The latest poll from The Economist/YouGov found just 45 percent of Hispanics approved of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, compared with 65 percent in early June. And Politico/Morning Consult’s new survey found Hispanic approval of Biden’s handling of the economy has dropped to 42 percent, compared with 60 percent back in June. Hispanics are also frustrated with how Biden has dealt with immigration — long one of Biden’s weakest issues in the public’s eyes — and although it isn’t the most important issue for Hispanic voters, it is often a highly salient one. Earlier this month, Quinnipiac University found that only 23 percent of Hispanic Americans approved of Biden’s work on immigration, down from 49 percent in late May. Even if that might be on the low end for Biden, the new Politico/Morning Consult survey also found him performing more poorly on the issue among Hispanic voters, as just 40 percent approved, compared with 51 percent in June.
Biden has lost ground among almost every single demographic group over the past few months, but independents and Hispanics stick out as two key groups where Biden’s standing has especially faltered. For Democrats looking ahead to the 2022 midterms, Biden’s overall approval rating is concerning enough, but if Biden is struggling to win independents and Hispanics, that could snuff out any hope Democrats have of holding either chamber of Congress. After all, independents backed Democrats in the 2018 midterms and Biden last November, and even though Republicans made gains with Hispanics in places like Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Hispanics still largely backed Biden and helped him win in key swing states, like Arizona. But if Republicans can capitalize on Biden’s weakness among these groups, that could be their ticket back to controlling Congress next year.
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