Joe Biden’s low approval rating not only impacted recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey, it also could spell doom for Democrats in the upcoming midterms and even impact Biden’s ability to run for re-election, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll taken of registered voters immediately following those elections last Tuesday night.
The poll is a historic low point for the Biden administration, no matter how you look at it. Biden’s 38% approval rating (59% disapproval) is lower than any Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll taken since he took office. Notably, it is also lower than the 41% approve (55% disapprove) statistic our team recorded in August – in the chaos preceding the United States’ withdrawal of personnel from Afghanistan.
This poll also shows that the generic congressional ballot test of voters has flipped to Republicans, which is unusual because this indicator often gives Democrats the edge. The generic congressional ballot test is an important barometer of voting behavior because it removes individual dynamics of each race and focuses on how voters are leaning between the two parties. In the Suffolk/USA TODAY poll, this indicator not only tilted to Republicans, but it also completely flipped the other way: 46% would now choose a generic Republican candidate for Congress compared to 38% for a Democrat.
That news should worry the moderate Democratic establishment, who are trying to steer their general elections through traffic and potholes without GPS, and while checking the rearview mirror for progressive Democratic primary challengers eager to overtake.
In the 2021 off-cycle elections, this advantage to Republican candidates was not only seen in the gubernatorial elections. In Virginia, Republicans rode the wave to wins for the other two statewide offices on the ballot: lieutenant governor and attorney general. In New Jersey, Republican Richard Durr, a truck driver, defeated a longtime and powerful incumbent state Democrat – and president of the state Senate – in a shocking upset … without really campaigning or spending much money.
Republicans across the country, whether justified or not, likely believe that they are going to pick up seats at all levels. If they copy the template of Glenn Youngkin in Virginia – by mobilizing the Trump base (without Trump physically visible) and challenging Democrats on education and parental involvement – they might be right.
Sure, the pendulum could swing back a bit to Democrats, and the midterms may not be as bad for them as last Tuesday. If COVID is gone next year, the economy continues to roar, and inflation is brought under control, Democrats will have successes to run on – as long as there are no more international crises.
Both Biden, Trump should campaign carefully
Biden would be wise to be measured in his support of Democratic candidates and zoom in on state or congressional districts where his approval rating exceeds his disapproval. After Virginia, he should avoid being visible in races that are lost because it will be the last public indicator of his political muscle or weakness.
The irony is that both Trump and Biden can best support their party nominees in the general election without being physically visible. Absence makes the voters grow fonder, just ask Youngkin.
Per usual, right after 2022, political analysts will begin talking about 2024 and pontificating the type of Republican that could match up well against Biden. The poll tells us that even though voters don’t want Trump to run in 2024, by a margin of 58%-36%, they would slightly favor him in a rematch with Biden today – 44% to 40% with 11% selecting a third-party candidate. That apparent paradox is possible because 64% of voters don’t want Biden to run in 2024 either!
With old-time political entities like Biden and Trump not favored by today’s voters, one must think about the kind of political purge that could be taking place right now leading up to 2024.
In fact, a younger candidate could even challenge the incumbent president in a Democratic primary and have a bit of a tailwind at their back. Same with an intraparty battle within the GOP with a Youngkin clone – Youngklone if you will – becoming the alternative to Trump. Remember, both Biden and Trump won their respective party primaries with pluralities – not majorities – in a large field of candidates. Our polling is clear that if either had just one opponent in their respective primaries at the outset, they probably would have lost.
The thought of that one-on-one primary scenario is probably making prominent Democrats (and Republicans) salivate – like mouths at a Thanksgiving feast.
David Paleologos is director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.