There’s a glimmer of hope inside the White House. After the State of the Union address and amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden experienced a modest bump in a pair of national polls.
While early, it feeds the desire to believe in the most optimistic scenario for Biden and the Democrats in this midterm election year. Assume a certain rallying around the flag effect for the commander in chief due to Russia-Ukraine, which also helpfully pushes at least some bad domestic news off the cable television chyrons. Hope that progress against COVID and toward post-pandemic normalcy continues, fully taking hold by November. Wait for inflation to subside.
If all of these things happen according to the right schedule and Republicans elevate their least appealing voices in the 2022 primaries, the Democrats could defy expectations in the midterms. And Biden could be in a position to rebound, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama before him, either way.
All of these things are possible, especially Republican overreach. In fact, the GOP’s problems could become an even bigger political issue if the party wins back control of Congress this year. But not all of these Biden-friendly happenings currently seem like the way to bet.
First, the Joe Biden bounce in the polls is small and could be short-lived. The president is up just 4 points in Morning Consult. Marist still has fewer than half of respondents approving of his performance in office (47 percent) to 51 percent who disapprove.
Then there are other, worse polls for Biden. Quinnipiac still pegs his job approval rating at 40 percent. A survey for Investor’s Business Daily shows him at 39 percent. Rasmussen Reports is just barely more generous at 41 percent approval. The two big polling averages, one compiled by RealClearPolitics and the other by FiveThirtyEight, both have Biden underwater. They differ only in whether it is by double digits or just awfully close to it.
The best case for Biden also presupposes that national conditions will continue to improve. It’s worth noting that if it weren’t for Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, Biden’s State of the Union would have mostly been a laundry list of legislative failures he was once again exhorting Congress to revive and pass.
Even if things do get better by some objective measures, will Biden engaging in happy talk with an angry and skeptical electorate sound out of touch? Polls regularly show 60 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track while seldom does more than a third express confidence it is moving in the right direction. More people disapprove than approve of Biden’s economic stewardship, even when GDP grows at a healthy clip and jobless claims fall.
Inflation is showing little sign of abating and the Democrats’ defiance of Biden on the Russian oil import ban suggests they are not optimistic that prices at the pump can be brought under control anytime soon. If higher interest rates do succeed in curbing inflation, does it come at the expense of the economic growth and jobs creation that highlight Biden’s good news?
Joe Biden is so far behind the rest of the country on easing COVID protocols that it is questionable how much credit he will receive. (He will get much of the blame if a new variant emerges to spike numbers or reverse this progress.) By election day, the last voices advocating for lockdowns, masks, and school closures will be coming from inside the Democratic Party.
A similar problem of behindness is cropping up on Russia-Ukraine. Biden held out against a Russian oil import ban for days, only folding when it was evident that Congress — under the control of his own party — was about to preempt him. That conflict is far from over.
All this is without mentioning the crisis at the southern border, skyrocketing violent crime rates, divisions in the Democratic coalition, and other intractable problems where Biden seems even less likely to be the beneficiary of good luck.
Joe Biden has appeared to be headed in a positive direction before, such as when vaccine distribution started making a real dent in the pandemic or after the enactment of the bipartisan infrastructure package. He has not been able to sustain the momentum. The only question is whether this time could be different — or whether the voters are just more dug in.
W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner’s politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and senior writer for the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? You can follow home on Twitter: @Jimantle.