According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden’s average approval rating stands at 43 percent, about 9 points lower than his 52 percent disapproval rating. That’s only 1 point higher than Trump’s FiveThirtyEight approval rating on April 15, 2019, at the same point in his one-term presidency.
Determining the extent to which Biden’s poor job rating endangers his likely reelection bid is not just an academic exercise. A deep dive into the numbers reveals Biden isn’t just struggling with independents and near-unanimous disapproval among Republicans. He’s also soft among Democrats and left-leaning demographic groups, a weakness that suggests a diminished enthusiasm for his candidacy — though something that could be papered over by partisan voting patterns in the general election.
That’s because the possible “alternative” to Biden next November could be Trump, whose personal favorability ratings are generally worse than Biden’s. Even as Trump has expanded his lead in the GOP presidential primary, he remains less popular than his Oval Office successor.
For Biden, the polling presents both serious warning signs and reasons to think his peril may be overstated. Here’s why:
Biden’s tenuous place in history
Biden’s 43-percent approval rating at this juncture of his term puts him roughly even with past presidents who have both won — Barack Obama (43 percent), Ronald Reagan (41 percent) — and lost, like Trump (42 percent) and Jimmy Carter (40 percent).
But to underscore how things can change between mid-April of the year before the election and the next November, both George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, sported high approval ratings at this point. George H.W. Bush was just a couple of months removed from the successful Operation Desert Storm and had an approval rating of 77 percent in mid-April, according to Gallup, which maintains the deepest archives of presidential job ratings.
The elder Bush would go on to win only 37 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Bill Clinton (43 percent) and independent Ross Perot (19 percent), owing to economic woes that overshadowed the credit he’d gotten from the first Iraq war.
George W. Bush had a 75 percent approval rating in a Gallup poll in mid-April 2003 — about a month into the second Iraq War. He won reelection, though by just 2 percentage points over Democrat John Kerry.
For Biden, not only is 18 months a long time, but he faces challenges both foreign and domestic, including slowing-but-persistent inflation and a possible economic recession.
Trouble with swing voters
Biden ousted Trump from the White House thanks to a coalition that combined the entire Democratic base with key swing groups who don’t identify with either party. But now both blocs show significant cracks in their approval of Biden.
Among independents, a group Biden won by double digits in 2020, the president is now underwater by a roughly 2-to-1margin, according to two polls released in late March from Fox News and Quinnipiac University.
In the Fox News poll, only 35 percent of voters approved of the job Biden is doing, while 65 percent disapproved. In the Quinnipiac poll, Biden’s numbers with independents are even worse: just 26 percent approve, and 67 percent disapprove.
Biden is 17 points underwater among suburban voters in the Fox News poll and 23 points in arrears in a Pew Research Center survey from late March and early April. Swingy suburban voters are a group Biden won narrowly over Trump in both the network exit poll (Biden +2 among suburban voters) and AP Votecast (Biden +10), a voter survey commissioned by The Associated Press and Fox News.
Biden won self-described moderates by 20 to 30 points in 2020, but the same group is evenly split on his job approval, according to the Fox News poll: 47 percent approve and 51 percent disapprove.
Softness among Democrats and core constituencies
Perceptions of Biden’s job performance are uniquely tepid among base voters — Democrats and other left-leaning demographic groups — in ways that his most recent predecessors, Trump and Barack Obama, never experienced. Even as they inspired enmity among members of the opposite party, both Trump and Obama won the same level of approval from their own party.
But that’s not happening with Biden. Virtually all Republicans say they disapprove of his job performance — 90 percent or greater in each of the three polls referenced above — but Democrats aren’t answering with their own approval.
In the Fox News and Quinnipiac polls, approval of Biden’s job performance among Democrats is around 80 percent. The Pew Research Center survey combines Democrats with independents who say they lean more toward the Democratic Party — still a must-win group for Biden — and finds his approval rating lower, at 67 percent.
Moreover, Biden is struggling with key subgroups of the Democratic base. He won around 9-in-10 Black voters in 2020, but only 59 percent of Black respondents to the Pew Research Center poll said they approve of how Biden is handling his job as president.
So far, Biden isn’t facing a credible threat for the presidential nomination within the Democratic Party. Should he enter the race, the only announced challengers with any degree of name ID he’d face are Marianne Williamson, who dropped out of the 2020 race before voting began, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of the senator whose most prominent public advocacy in recent years has been against vaccinations (according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation polling, only 8 percent of Democrats say they won’t receive the Covid vaccine, underscoring how difficult it will be to sell primary voters on an anti-vaccination platform).
Still, Biden faces a distinct — and without recent precedent — lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy among Democrats. In a CNN poll from last month, only 68 percent of Democrats said Biden deserves to be reelected next year.
In this way, Biden’s approval rating might actually overstate his electoral position: Around 1-in-10 Americans who say they approve of Biden’s job performance, 11 percent, say they don’t think he deserves to be reelected. In other words, they think he’s doing a good job, but harbor doubts about another term.
CNN noted that the 11 percent is a greater share than the overlap between Trump and Obama approvers and those who thought they deserved second terms. Those numbers were 3 and 5 percent for Trump and Obama, respectively.
But there’s also reason to believe Democrats will come home next November. Even as his approval rating and reelection numbers lag, Biden is still running neck-and-neck with Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in general-election matchups — and winning most Democrats in the process.
In the Quinnipiac poll, despite his 80 percent approval rating with Democratic voters, Biden wins 93 percent of Democrats in a head-to-head with Trump and 94 percent in a faceoff with DeSantis.