News & Politics

Is the Honeymoon Over?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Joe Biden’s approval rating stands at 50 percent, down from 56 percent in June. The percent of Americans who disapprove of the president rose to 45 percent.

Gallup tries to explain the drop.

The new rating is from a July 6-21 Gallup poll, which also finds that 45% of U.S. adults disapprove of Biden’s performance and 5% do not have an opinion. It comes at a time when U.S. progress in fighting the coronavirus has stalled, with vaccination rates slowing and case levels now rising. The economic recovery continues, with unemployment declining and stock market values near record highs. But consumers are paying higher prices for gas and other goods. Biden has also struggled to deliver on his promise of greater bipartisanship, although negotiations on an infrastructure bill continue in the Senate.

Perhaps more worrying for the Biden team is that he is rapidly losing the support of political independents, from a high of 61 percent at his inauguration to just 48 percent today.

Those numbers historically get worse in a new president’s third quarter after the inauguration. In Biden’s case, he will be dealing with a resurgent pandemic that experts say won’t peak until October. He will also have to explain a sputtering economic recovery with high inflation and stagnant employment.

It will be hard for Biden to argue that a stalling out of the recovery would be Trump’s fault. It’s been his idea to jack up government spending to nearly unprecedented levels, driving inflation and dampening growth. That’s no one’s fault but his own.

Biden’s approval rating is showing the first signs of meaningful decline. If the lower ratings persist, it could indicate his “honeymoon” period is over. Because Republicans have been unlikely to support him from the beginning of his presidency, changes in his approval are likely to come from Democrats’ and independents’ evaluations of him. That is what has occurred now, with both groups slightly less positive toward Biden than they have been to this point. Still, he maintains very high approval among Democrats, and his rating among independents remains higher than his immediate predecessor Trump ever received from that group.

Biden’s “honeymoon” with the media will never end and it’s silly to talk in those antiquated terms anyway. Historically, a president’s honeymoon with the media lasted six months. For the first six months of a president’s first term — with any president of either party — the media was supposed to lay off the new president to let him get his bearings and set his agenda.

Today, it doesn’t matter how long some presidents have served, the media either loves or hates them, depending on the political party of the occupant of the White House. From day one until they leave office, coverage of the president is set, narratives have been established, and many in the press try to shape a president’s legacy to their own liking.

The science of polling is in crisis because all pollsters, not just Gallup, cannot explain current trends in familiar terms. They have no frame of reference to understand the historical, social, and economic forces that are changing America. What percentage of Biden’s approval rating is due to voters telling poll interviewers what they think they should be saying rather than what they truly believe?

Polling still has some efficacy as a device to roughly measure political support. But beyond that, until pollsters can overcome their own shortcomings, it’s relatively useless.