2022 election, abortion, Biden, Capitol attack, Capitol riot, Congress, Democrats, Donald Trump, election 2022, FBI, generic ballot, Im-Politic, January 6, January 6 committee, Mar-a-Lago search, midterms, midterms 2022, Republicans
As next month’s U.S. midterms elections approach, some of the polling results are growing weirder and weirder. Principally, even as the Republicans have recovered virtually all of the lead they lost in the so-called Generic Congress Ballot (which tries to measure which major party voters would like to see control the House and Senate), President Biden’s approval ratings have rebounded pretty impressively.
These trends (which of course could turn on a dime in this era of frequent bombshell news) are weird because the conventional wisdom holds that presidents’ popularity is an important determinant of how their party fares in the midterms. So all else equal, if Mr. Biden is being looked on more favorably by voters, Democratic candidates for Congress should be benefiting. But they’re not.
In other words, contrary to the signals being sent by so many Democratic politicians this election year (see, e.g., here), the President is far from the biggest problem troubling his party. Indeed, he might now be its biggest asset.
Specifically, according to the widely followed average of polls compiled by the RealClearPolitics.com website, the GOP edge in the Generic Ballot today stands at 3.3 percentage points. That’s its highest level since June 24, when it was 3.4 percentage points.
Although this shift and these leads may seem small, keep in mind that during Mr. Biden’s term, the results have stayed within a distinctly narrow range. For example, the Democrats’ biggest lead was 6.7 percentage points, registered on June 21, 2021. The Republicans’ biggest lead – 4.8 percentage points – came this past April 28.
As for President Biden, his popularity is still underwater as of today – by 11.6 percentage points. But that’s up considerably from his worst showing – the 20.7 percentage gap reported by RealClearPolitics on July 21.
What I find especially notable are the changes in the Generic Ballot and Biden approval since three events that should have put the Republicans in scalding water: the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the right to an abortion, the beginning of public hearings held by the House of Representatives on the January 6th Capitol attack, and the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.
The abortion decision, which I speculated could seriously harm Republicans politically, was reported thanks to a leak to Politico.com on May 2. On that day, the GOP held a four percentage point Generic Ballot lead, and President Biden’s negatives exceeded his positives by 11 percentage points. As indicated above, the Biden gap doubled over the next two months, but his ratings have regained nearly all that lost ground.
After May 2, the Republicans’ Generic Ballot fortunes worsened so dramatically that the Democrats had built a 1.3 percentage point lead by September 21. Since then, however, these results have flipped markedly, so it seems reasonable to believe that the abortion decision has faded in importance for the midterms, even as Mr. Biden has become more popular.
The same conclusion looks warranted for the January 6th Committee’s work. On June 9, when it held its first hearing, the Republican lead was 3.4 percentage points (just like its aforementioned June 24 margin), and President Biden’s approval ratings were 15.3 percentage points underwater. But thereafter, of course, both numbers trended in the Democrats’ direction until…they didn’t. On a relative basis, however, recently the President has been outperforming his party’s Congressional candidates.
And with the Mar-a-Lago search having taken place on August 9, the subsequent revelations about Trump’s handling of classified documents reveal a similar polling pattern.
The bottom line here isn’t that the Democrats are doomed to a wipeout next month, or that Mr. Biden has recently turned into Mr. Popularity. Instead, it seems to be that as unenthusiastic about the President voters clearly remain, they like what they see of Democrats in Congress today, and the slate of candidates offered by the party this year, even less.
At the same time, my belief that the abortion decision in particular has hurt the GOP politically isn’t completely dead yet. It’s still possible that it could wind up exacting an opportunity cost on the party’s 2022 performance. That is, even if the Republicans win both the House and Senate, it might still be plausible to contend that their margins might have been even greater had the Court stayed its hand.
But that case can’t be proven until the ultimate poll results come in – on Election Day itself.