News Update

Analysis: Biden's political fortunes are riding on congressional Democrats passing major deals

Biden must hope that something gets passed — his and his party’s political fortunes could depend on it.
Biden’s approval rating has been sinking the last few months and is down to only about 45% in an average of polls. The decline can be linked to many things, including the pullout of troops from Afghanistan and a rise in coronavirus cases.
But part of it may have to do with the fact that Americans don’t think he and his administration have accomplished very much. An NBC News poll last month found that just 14% of Americans think Biden’s done a great deal, compared to 40% who think he’s accomplished very little. All told, 58% of Americans believe Biden has done very little or only some vs. 40% who think he’s accomplished a great or fair deal.
These percentages are far worse than they were for Biden back in April. Back then, more Americans (51%) thought Biden had done a great or fair amount than little or some (47%).
These percentages are only slightly better than where former President Donald Trump was at a similar point during his term. Back then, 12% of Americans thought he had accomplished a great deal, compared to 46% who believed he had very little.
The two bills before Congress provide a strong opportunity for Biden to be seen as doing something. There’s the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that has already passed the Senate, and the $3.5 trillion spending package that contains funding for universal pre-K, expansion of Medicare and clean energy.
Issue polling isn’t as cut and dry as polling about elections, but the bills seem more popular than not.
The Pew Research Center polled both the infrastructure package and the reconciliation package.
The infrastructure bill came out 51% favor vs. 20% oppose, while the spending bill was 49% favor to 25% oppose.
About a quarter of the electorate remained undecided on both, but these polls generally follow what most of the public data has shown: voters are in favor of Biden and the Democrats passing something.
These bills are certainly more popular than the Trump tax cuts that passed in the first year of his presidency. Opposition pretty much always outran support on that bill, and usually by double digit margins.
Trump and the Republicans passed that bill, however. Trump’s approval rating actually climbed from the mid 30s to the low 40s.
The reason is that the tax cuts rallied Republicans, among whom the President became more popular.
Now, there’s no guarantee that these bills will make Biden more popular. The linkage between legislation passing and presidential popularity isn’t one-to-one, and there still are plenty of Americans undecided on the bills. But either of these bills passing may not need to make Biden more popular in order to have a desirable outcome for Democrats.
For one thing, there has been a steady beat of bad news cycles for Biden for over a month. Initially, it was rising coronavirus cases due to the Delta variant. Then it was the exit from Afghanistan. Now, it’s a Democratic Party that can’t seem to line up together to actually get something done.
Merely showing that they can do something can’t hurt — and likely helps — Democrats.
Perhaps even more importantly, Democrats seem to be suffering from an enthusiasm problem. We’ve seen the average Democratic performance in special elections fall off tremendously in recent months. Special elections are about voter preference (i.e. liking Democrats or Republicans), but they’re about enthusiasm too (i.e. turning out to vote in an off-timed election).
Additionally, our last CNN/SSRS poll suggested that Democrats may have an enthusiasm problem ahead of 2022. On the generic congressional ballot, those who were extremely or very enthusiastic about voting next year favored Republican candidates by 4 points. Those who were somewhat or not enthusiastic about voting next year favored Democratic candidates by 6 points.
Part of the reason Democratic backers may not be enthusiastic is that Biden and his fellow Democrats haven’t given them a lot of reason to turn out in 2022.
One has to imagine that if an unpopular tax cut helped Trump rally his base, then a bill that is more popular has at least some chance of doing the same with Biden and his base.

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