By Susan Milligan
After many months of Democratic dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and the state of the country, Democrats are coming home – barely in time for the imperiled party ahead of challenging midterms.
Biden’s approval ratings had been in the basement for much of the year, driven in part, polling shows, by dissatisfaction in the Democratic base – women, Black and Hispanic voters, and young people unhappy with the pace of progressive reforms they seek and worried about inflation.
But recently, following a string of legislative victories for the president and a base energized by the Supreme Court ruling undoing guaranteed abortion rights, Biden is getting higher marks from voters who are essential to Democrats as they struggle to hang onto control of the Senate and House this fall.
An NBC poll released over the weekend shows that Biden has substantially improved his standing with his base. More than half of female voters (52%) now approve of Biden’s performance, up from 47% in August, the polls found. The same was true among Hispanics (who went from 40% approval of Biden in August to 48% in the September poll) and voters 18-34, whose approval rating of Biden shot up from 36% in August to 48% this month.
The same poll also had Democrats and Republicans tied on the “generic ballot” – the question of whether voters would prefer Democrats or Republicans running Congress. That’s a slight improvement for Democrats, who trailed the GOP 47% to 45% in August, but is not a statistically significant change.
Recent polling by Siena College for The New York Times shows similar trends. The percentage of Democrats who believe the country is on the “right track” jumped from 27% in July to 50% in September, the Times poll found, and Biden’s approval rating among Democrats went from 70% in July to 83% this month.
An AP-NORC poll, meanwhile, found that Biden’s approval rating among Democrats went from 65% in July to 78% in September.
Those numbers may or may not be relevant to Biden’s own political future. He told CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night that while it is his “intention” to run for re-election in 2024, but “it remains to be seen” if he will do so.
But his approval rating can affect turnout. Into the summer months, party operatives feared dispirited Democrats will not be motivated to vote at all. More recent surveys show a brighter picture for Democrats, with the Siena College/Times poll finding that about equal percentages – 52% of Republicans and 51% of Democrats – are “almost certain” to vote this fall.
Polling by YouGov also shows improvement for Democrats among their base voters. Democrats have a 25-point advantage (50.9% to 26.1%) among Hispanics, for example, up from a dangerously low for Democrats 6 percentage point advantage (43.3% to 37.1%) in July.
Voters under 30 years old prefer Democrats by a 27 percentage point margin (49.1 to 21.8), YouGov, up from a mere 5-percentage point lead (38.7 to 33.5) in February. Support for Democrats among women has also increased: Democrats had just a 5 percentage point advantage among female voters in March (42.1% to 37%), but after the high court’s ruling on abortion, Democrats’ advantage widened dramatically, reaching a high in late August of 51.7% to Republicans’ 31.5% support.
And Black voters – a key piece of the Democratic base – appear to be warming back up to Biden as well. In the summer, there were signs that Black support for Biden was cooling; a Washington Post poll in July found that 7 in 10 Black voters approved of Biden, but just 23% “strongly” approved of him. The Siena College/New York Times poll this month reported that 72% of Black voters have a favorable view of Biden, including 34% who have a “very favorable” view of him.
The polling hardly ensures a Democratic victory – either in individual races or in party control of Congress, since Americans are still concerned about inflation, crime and other areas where polling shows Republicans are more trusted to handle the issues. And the party in power in the White House historically tends to lose seats in Congress in the midterms.
But the recent polling is welcome news for Democrats, who had been one of Biden’s biggest problems in earlier surveys. Moderate Democrats were unhappy about high gas prices, inflation and crime, while progressives felt that Biden was not achieving the policy changes they wanted in areas like social spending and climate change.
But as the midterms approach, many progressives are looking at the choices this fall and are coalescing around Democrats – or at least, against Republicans, activists say.
“Progressives can absolutely be frustrated with the pace of progress and understand the stakes that are ahead of us,” Nse Ufot, chief executive officer of the New Georgia Project, a progressive group, said in a recent conference call to discuss the group’s efforts to register and turn out voters. “That’s exactly what we’re seeing,” she said.
Biden, on “60 Minutes,” shook off a question about whether he was – at 79 – too old or not mentally fit enough to run the country or to run again.
“Pretty good shape, huh?” the president said when his age was brought up. “Watch me,” Biden added, when asked how he felt about people questioning his mental acuity. “Honest to God, that’s all I think: Watch me.”