Biden approval surges, rebounds to highest level since May

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A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that President Biden’s job-approval rating has shot up 5 percentage points since early August — its largest and most sudden change to date.

The president’s disapproval number, meanwhile, has fallen by 3 percentage points. Never before has Biden’s overall rating shifted that much in a matter of weeks.

The survey of 1,563 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Aug. 18 to Aug. 22, comes amid a run of good news for Biden and Democrats — a list that includes plummeting gas prices, the killing of a top al-Qaeda leader and the recent passage of landmark climate legislation paired with a popular plan to lower prescription drug prices. Biden’s improving numbers likely reflect these developments. (The president subsequently announced that his administration would cancel $10,000 in student-loan debt for Americans earning $125,000 or less per year.)

President Biden gathers with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Mark Takano after signing the PACT Act on Aug. 1.

President Biden gathers with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Mark Takano after signing the PACT Act on Aug. 1. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If Democrats are lucky, such numbers could mark the end of a prolonged summer slump for the president. As inflation soared, recession fears loomed and a gridlocked Senate stalled the president’s agenda, Biden’s approval rating ticked down on every Yahoo News/YouGov survey from June through August. Earlier this month it bottomed out at 35% approve to 56% disapprove among all Americans.

But now, days after signing his signature Inflation Reduction Act into law, the president seems to be gaining ground.

To be sure, Biden’s overall rating is still negative: 40% approve to 53% disapprove. That is his best number, however, since May, and it appears to signal two welcome trends for the White House: improving perceptions of the state of the U.S. economy and rebounding confidence in Biden among Democrats and independents.

Although views of the economy and the direction of the country remain gloomy overall, recent downward trends have reversed. Since early August:

● the number of Americans who rate the state of the economy as excellent or good is up 8 points (21%)

● the number who rate the economy as “poor” is down 9 points (to 46%)

● the number who say the economy is “getting worse” is down 12 points (to 51%)

● the number who say the economy is “in a recession” is down 5 points (to 48%)

● and the number who say the country is “generally headed in the right direction” is up 5 points (to 23%)

These are still not the kind of numbers any president wants to see heading into election season. But they coincide with rising approval ratings for Biden himself on an array of key issues: inflation (+7 points, from 26% to 33%), the economy (+5, from 30% to 35%), climate change (+4, from 38% to 42%) and race (+4, from 36% to 40%). A slightly larger number of Americans (41%) also approve of the job Biden is doing on “health care.”

Republican opposition to Biden has been nearly unanimous throughout his presidency — no surprise in such a partisan and polarized age. But the reason Biden’s numbers cratered over the summer is that Democrats and independents were increasingly objecting to his performance as well.

Those trends also appear to be turning around. Since early August, Biden’s approval is up 6 points among Democrats (to 78%) and 7 points among independents (to 33%). The contrast between Democrats and Republicans is especially stark. Among Democrats, perceptions of the economy as excellent or good have increased 11 points over the past few weeks, while “right direction” responses are up 9 points (from 37% to 46%). Among Republicans, those same numbers have barely budged (+4 and +1, respectively).

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act is likely playing a role here. All three of its major reforms — investing hundreds of billions of dollars in slashing greenhouse gas emissions; lowering prescription drug cost by letting Medicare negotiate prices; raising revenue and reducing the deficit by closing corporate and high-income tax loopholes — are popular with the public.

But they have become more popular only in recent weeks. Americans now favor the law’s climate provisions by 19 points (49% to 30%); its tax provisions by 32 points (54% to 22%); and its prescription drug provisions by 50 points (64% to 14%). Overall, they favor the new law by 19 points (48% to 29%), with Democrats in favor by 73 points (80% to 7%) and independents in favor by 9 (41% to 32%).

As a result, while a majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (55%) said in early August that they would prefer to see “someone else” other than Biden as their presidential nominee in 2024, that number has fallen 6 points since then (to 49%); the number who say they would prefer Biden (32%) has increased by 5. A few weeks ago, 45% of Democrats — a plurality — said Biden is “not changing enough about America”; today a 42% plurality says he is changing America “by the right amount.”

The question now is whether Biden’s improving numbers can help Democrats avoid a blowout in 2022 — the fate that typically befalls a president’s party in midterm years.

In part that depends on forces over which the president exerts little control. Gasoline prices have been steadily declining for months, and Americans are very aware of this fact, with twice as many now saying the cost of gas is going down (48%) rather than up (24%). Likewise, the annual inflation rate slowed to 8.7% in July from 9.1% the month before.

Yet for now, just 15% of Americans say inflation is getting better rather than getting worse (51%). Given that far more Americans select inflation (32%) as the “the most important issue when thinking about this year’s election” than anything else, much of what happens in November may hinge on whether prices continue to ease — or resume their precipitous ascent.

Another factor that could help keep Democrats afloat in November is enthusiasm. Typically the party that doesn’t control the presidency picks up seats in the midterms because their supporters are really motivated to vote against the president — and the president’s supporters aren’t particularly motivated to vote for more of the same. But experts say the end of Roe v. Wade and the rise of Republican candidates echoing Trump’s stolen election lie may be leveling the playing field. Why? Because they give Democrats a reason to turn out as well: to stop long-established rights from being taken away.

The Yahoo News/YouGov poll tested this theory in two ways. First, respondents were asked who has “changed America more” over the past year or two: “Democrats, who control the White House and Congress” or “Republicans, who control red states and the Supreme Court.” Among Democrats, the results were evenly split — a striking testament to the perception that even though their own party holds power in Washington, D.C., the other party has been pushing its agenda just as forcefully through courts and statehouses.

The second test was a series of questions meant to gauge political passion and engagement by asking whether Americans are “angry,” “enthusiastic,” “satisfied” or “dissatisfied” with a series of recent developments. The two that elicited the most anger were “the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade” (34%) and “efforts to overturn the 2020 election” (36%) — both top Democratic concerns. The corresponding Republican sticking points — “Joe Biden’s response to inflation” and “the FBI searching Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home” — generated a smaller number of angry responses (30% and 24%, respectively).

Broken down by party, the results are nearly indistinguishable, with Democrats just as angry about the end of Roe v. Wade (56%) and efforts to overturn the 2020 election (59%) as Republicans are about the Mar-a-Lago search (55%) and Joe Biden’s response to inflation (58%). Asked to select “the biggest threat to the future of the United States” from a list of eight options, a big plurality of Democrats (37%) choose Donald Trump; 20% choose Republicans. Combined, the exact same number of Republicans pick either Joe Biden (26%) or Democrats (31%).

That’s not the usual midterm dynamic, and it may help explain why “the Democratic candidate” (45%) continues to lead “the Republican candidate” (39%) by 6 points when registered voters are asked who they would vote for in their district “if an election for U.S. Congress were being held today” — despite a national political climate that continues to favor Republicans and approval numbers for Biden that remain underwater, even as they show some signs of improvement.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,563 U.S. adults interviewed online from Aug. 18 to Aug. 22, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.6%.

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