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New polls confirm Democratic problems for November

The issues Democrats feel are most important are not resonating with the public

President Joe Biden's poll numbers illustrate the challenge to Democrats as they approach the November midterm elections.
President Joe Biden's poll numbers illustrate the challenge to Democrats as they approach the November midterm elections. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — The recently released March 7-13 Pew Research Center survey and the March 18-22 NBC News poll paint a grim picture for Democrats. Even worse for the president’s party, they offer little reason to believe that things will improve for Democrats before the November midterm elections.

After watching his performance for more than a year and hearing constant Republican attacks, voters seem to have arrived at a conclusion about President Joe Biden that makes it difficult for him to reshape this image. 

Biden

The president’s job approval stands at a weak 41 percent among registered voters in the NBC News survey, while 54 percent disapprove. Among registered voters who feel “strongly” about Biden’s performance, only 16 percent approve, while 42 percent disapprove.

Biden’s performance ratings on key aspects of his presidency are equally bad — or worse. A clear majority of respondents disapprove of his performance on foreign policy (42 percent approve/51 percent disapprove), the war in Ukraine (41 percent approve/52 percent disapprove), and the economy (33 percent approve/63 percent disapprove).

When NBC News asked respondents how much confidence they have in Biden’s “ability to respond to the war between Russia and Ukraine and manage this crisis,” only 28 percent said “a great deal” or “quite a bit of confidence,” while 44 percent said “very little confidence.”

Obviously, these are worrisome numbers not only for the White House but also for the Democratic campaign committees focused on 2022.

Biden’s personal image isn’t any better than his job performance numbers in the most recent NBC News poll. His image ratings of just 37 percent positive/46 percent negative are not dramatically different from former President Donald Trump’s current image (36 percent positive/50 perfect negative), according to the NBC poll.

As the Pew Research Center noted in its March 24 report, Biden is now “much more of a motivating factor for Republican than Democratic voters: 71% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they think of their vote as being ‘against’ Biden; far fewer Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters (46%) view their vote as a vote ‘for’ the president.”

Issues

When the Pew Research Center asked registered voters which issues were “very important” to them in casting their midterm vote, the top answer by far was the economy. It was followed by a basket of issues — from voting policies to health care, education, energy, gun policy and Supreme Court appointments. 

At the bottom of the list of 15 issues were three issues that Democrats think are important and like to talk about but which Republicans regard as much less important — climate change, issues around race and ethnicity, and the coronavirus pandemic.

Interestingly, Republicans see two other issues as dramatically more important than do Democrats — violent crime and immigration.

The NBC News survey also found the “cost of living” and “jobs and the economy” as the top two issues, followed by the war in Ukraine and “voting rights and election integrity.”

It too found the coronavirus has largely disappeared as an issue, though voters narrowly approve of Biden’s handling of COVID-19.

Generic Ballot

The Pew Research survey showed registered voters split evenly on the “generic ballot,” with 43 percent planning to vote for the Democratic nominee for Congress in November and the same percentage planning to vote for the Republican nominee.

The NBC News survey found 46 percent of respondents preferring a Congress controlled by Republicans, while 44 percent favored a Democratic-controlled Congress.

Both surveys are good news for Republicans. 

Historically, the generic ballot test has underestimated the GOP vote. Even more important, voters who decide late in a cycle — including those who are now “undecided” about their congressional vote later this year — tend to reflect the national mood, which currently shows an unpopular president and a public that believes the country is headed “off on the wrong track.”

The large number of Democratic retirements could also give Republicans additional targets, though that could be offset by a surprisingly good Democratic redistricting cycle.

Turnout, of course, is always crucial, and once again the news is not good for Democrats. 

The Pew Research Center survey found Republicans are 10 points more likely than Democrats to say that partisan control of Congress “really matters.” That difference in intensity is likely to translate into a significant turnout advantage for the GOP.  

Four years ago, a slightly larger percentage of Democrats (67 percent) than Republicans (65 percent) said that it mattered which party controlled Congress. That November, Democrats re-took the House majority from the GOP, while the GOP added two seats to its majority in the Senate.

Bottom line

Biden’s relatively strong performance uniting the world against the Russian invasion of Ukraine hasn’t benefited the president yet. At the same time, the economy remains a huge political problem for him even though economic growth is strong and unemployment remains low. 

Voters seem focused on bad news (such as inflation), and Republican voters look motivated as the midterms approach.

Tomorrow will bring more news and more polls, and there are still more than seven months to go until the midterm elections. But the most recent NBC News and Pew Research Center polls offer little in the way of good news for the president and his party.

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