For the last month or so, the dominant narrative in American politics has been that President Joe Biden – and Democrats more generally – are on the comeback trail.
Their odds of keeping the Senate look better than they did earlier in the midterm cycle and there are even some pundits who suggest Democrats might be able to eke out a House majority.
Here’s the thing that all of that happy talk misses: Biden is still not at all popular among the public. And if past is prologue, his approval ratings are the key to how his party will do in November.
Let me throw a few numbers at you.
In new CNN polling in Arizona and Nevada, Biden’s job approval rating among registered voters sits at 39% in both states. His disapproval in both states is 60%. Which, bad.
But it’s not anomalous. In CNN’s Poll of Polls, the average of the most recent national polls of adults that meet CNN’s standards for reporting, Biden’s approval is at – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – 39%. (Biden’s disapproval is at 52%, with more people in those national polls saying they don’t have an opinion of Biden’s job performance than in the Arizona and Nevada polls.)
Where does Biden rank historically at this point in his presidency? Using Gallup’s awesome presidential job approval center, we can track where recent Biden’s recent predecessors stood in the final stretch before the midterm election in their first term.
Biden: 42% approval among adults (Last poll ended 9/16/22)
Donald Trump: 40% approval (9/30/18)
Barack Obama: 46% approval (9/19/10)
George W. Bush: 70% approval (9/16/02)
Bill Clinton: 42% approval (9/18/94)
George H.W. Bush: 73% approval (9/16/90)
So going back 30 years, only Trump had a lower job approval rating in Gallup’s polling than Biden at similar stage of the midterm cycle.
In the 2018 election, Democrats won a net of 40 House seats – and took the majority. Which is consistent with what history tells us about the price the president’s party pays when said president is not popular with Americans.
As of 2018 – and not including the 2018 election – the average House seat loss for a president whose job approval is under 50% is 37 seats, according to a Gallup analysis. For presidents with job approvals north of 50%, the seat loss average is 14 seats.
Of course, even the lower end of that range would hand Republicans the House majority in 2022.
The Point: There’s no doubt Biden’s numbers experienced a bit of a bump at the end of the summer. But they appear to have settled back into very dangerous territory for Democrats on the ballot this fall.