From Barack Obama’s second term in 2012 until today, Americans have disapproved of their president – almost all the time. With the midterm elections just five months away, that’s not good news for Joe Biden.
In recent days, White House aides have expressed frustration that President Biden’s poll is lower than his predecessor Donald Trump’s at the same point in his administration.
It’s particularly infuriating for the incumbent given that Trump’s ratings were, at the time, and indeed throughout his tenure, historically low.
The expectation, particularly among the left, was that Trump was an anomaly, an age of division and discontent with institutions, who could be relegated, with a chill, to the dustbin of history.
Given President Biden’s appalling and consistently low poll numbers slipping below his predecessor’s, it must be extremely discouraging that America’s abandoned attitude toward its presidents is an ongoing phenomenon, with no immediate end in sight. .
America has set something of a record.
From the beginning of Barack Obama’s second term until today, spanning three presidents, Americans have disapproved of their president almost all of the time.
The six months at the end of Obama’s presidency and the first five or six months at the start of Biden’s presidency are the only periods when average presidential approval ratings were above 50%.
This equals one year – out of ten.
In other words, over the past decade, Americans have disapproved of their presidents 90% of the time.
There have been previous presidents, like Jimmy Carter or George Bush, who hit terrible lows in their polls, but at least had a year, or six months here and there, when they were popular enough.
Trump was different in that, in the polls average, he never reached 50% for a single day he was in office, which was unprecedented.
The only time period comparable to this would be the decade from the early 70s to the early 80s, covering Watergate, the oil shocks, stagflation, the Iran hostage crisis, and the recession of the early 80s.
But even then, Carter and Reagan both had a strong freshman year, and the average approval rating—spanning that period—was still above water at least a quarter of the time.
The first signs of this current malaise date back to mid-2011, when US special forces carried out an incredibly daring raid on a compound in Pakistan to eliminate the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden.
It was a monumental moment encapsulating all that could be considered the ideal American DNA: a president making a tough and courageous choice, Navy Seals risking their lives and acting with skill and boldness, justice for families who have lost loved ones loved ones in the twin towers, and the issuance of a pledge to do whatever it takes to get revenge on the terrorists.
For all of this, however, President Obama’s approval rating only made a little over 50% and stayed there for only about a month, before falling back into unfavorable territory.
During the Cold War, Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had regular approval ratings in the 1960s and 70s.
When Kennedy botched an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, he went on TV to report on himself, and his approval rating actually jumped to 78%.
During the boom of the 80s, Reagan was unquestionably popular, and Bill Clinton, even at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, was still extremely highly ranked.
America risks becoming like France: fostering a cynical, jaded attitude toward leaders that takes root in the national psyche.
With the ongoing Covid problem, historically high inflation rates and a culturally divided America, it is likely that these very low presidential approval ratings will persist for some time to come.
With the midterm elections less than five months away, this risks creating immense problems for President Biden and the Democratic Party.