Elections , Newsline

In Biden’s Zombie Polls, an Echo of Carter

Posted on Friday, April 21, 2023
by Daniel Berman

AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman


After the surprise over performance of Democrats in last November’s midterm elections, the media, Democrat strategists, and even many Republicans seem to have accepted the idea that Joe Biden’s approval numbers are irrelevant, that nothing he does can matter electorally, and that polls themselves are meaningless when it comes to Democrats’ 2024 prospects. But just because no one is talking about it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. The pundits ignoring Joe Biden’s historic unpopularity may be creating a false sense of security about Biden’s strength.

In CNBC’s most recent poll, released on April 18, Joe Biden’s approval rating clocked in at 39% with 55% disapproving of his performance as President. A stunning 69% were pessimistic about the economy, and they disapproved of how Biden was handling it by a margin of 64%-34%.

Despite these dismal results, the poll elicited little coverage, which says something about our politics and our media environment in 2023. Joe Biden’s unpopularity is so deeply engrained in the assumptions of everyone who covers or discusses American politics that it is hardly worth commenting on.

It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the absurdity of this situation. A consensus has developed that the approval ratings of a sitting president have little to no bearing on the prospects of that individual winning an election which is barely 18 months away. This consensus has driven coverage of a multitude of issues, from the recent leak of classified materials, to the visit of Taiwan’s president to the U.S., to declining U.S. influence in the Middle East, to France’s Emmanuel Macron blowing metaphorical kisses at China’s Xi Jinping. If public perceptions of Joe Biden do not matter, then there is no point asking how the administration’s failures contributed to events, or whether it should be held responsible.

On the level of political communications, the pervasiveness of this narrative could be considered one of the most brilliant feats in the history of American politics. Joe Biden has managed to recuse himself from responsibility for the success or failures of his policies. Or at least, this would be a brilliant feat, if it was deliberate rather than merely fortuitous. And that fortuity itself may be a temporary phenomenon.

There are two ways to read this situation. One is that the public has decided it loves Biden, and nothing it hears will change that impression. This interpretation defies plausibility and all available evidence.

The second, more dangerous possibility, at least for the administration, is that the electorate is numb to bad news because they expect nothing else. They have internalized the idea that Joe Biden is a hapless failure and have learned to expect no better. According to this interpretation, the public has already decided that it is done with Biden, and further failures will not change this fact.

There are two presidents whose topline approval numbers mirror Joe Biden’s closely, each representing one of the above possibilities. The first, Ronald Reagan, had a rocky first term cleaning up the legacy of the 1970s, and his approval ratings averaged as low as 41% in early 1983.

There was a difference, however: When asked whether they expected things to get better – the economy, America’s position in the world, the lives of their children – voters overwhelmingly indicated optimism. Things were bad, but they believed Reagan was trying to make them better. They weren’t sure if he could succeed, but if he did not, they were sure someone else could.

The comparison which most closely tracks with our present circumstances is Jimmy Carter, whose numbers in early 1979 also were a tad above 41%.

What distinguishes Carter’s presidency from Reagan’s was the extreme pessimism of the electorate. The electorate believed that America faced enormous problems, and had lost faith as to whether anyone could overcome them.

In one respect this aided Carter. Voters did not blame him for creating many of the problems. They were uncertain anyone else could have done better, and so they were reluctant to hold the president fully responsible for his failures.

The result was a “zombie” strength to Carter’s polling position in trial heats against opponents. Despite the view that he was a failure and expectations that a second term would bring more of the same, Carter was able to tie potential challengers in the mid to low 40s, a situation that lasted almost until the 1980 election. This created an impression that Carter was immune to events. While Carter may well have won had the effort to rescue the hostages succeeded, its failure did not cause the president to fall hopelessly behind Reagan, at least not immediately. That would not happen until the final weeks.

Contemporaries were quick to read too much into this perceived stability. They assumed that because individual pieces of bad news or additional failures did not seem to move Carter’s numbers downward, that nothing could. They conflated political numbness for political genius. They assumed this indicated that Ronald Reagan was unelectable and not that voters had simply yet to be presented with the simple question, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

That question, posed at the sole debate of the campaign, acted as water bursting through a dam. From a six-point Carter lead before the debate, Reagan was ahead by three the following week and won by nearly ten on Election Day.

The shift in candidate preference is less surprising if other polling questions are taken into account. A Time/Yankelovich, Skelly & White poll taken from October 14-16 of 1980 found that only 32% of voters thought things were going well in the country, with only 3% saying “very well.” By contrast, 68% said things were going badly, 43% “very badly.”

The RealClearPolitics average for the “State of the Country” question today has only 27% saying things are going well, and 64% saying things are going badly, remarkably similar to the 1980s numbers.

This does not mean, as November 2022 proved, that there is a landslide which is hiding behind the numbers. Even Reagan won less than 51%, and had it not been for John Anderson, likely would have won by something like 52%-46%.

The problem for Biden and Democrats is that there are two ways their numbers can collapse, or more accurately converge with electoral sentiment about the state of the country.

The first would be for Republicans to neutralize the potency of the left’s attacks on issues such as abortion and spending. The second is to recognize that such issues are currently decisive because voters are not convinced there is any major difference in competence. Electing Republicans to Congress and State legislatures would not have made U.S. foreign policy any more competent or removed Biden. But in 2024 the Executive Branch itself is at stake, and voters will have to weigh the offer of competence in exchange for looking the other way on some policy positions where they may not agree entirely with Republicans.

That is a comparison that Biden’s team may already have lost. It is hard to imagine a public that has internalized failure as the natural state of the Biden presidency deciding a second Biden term would be marked by competence. At that point, if a Republican can promise even to return to 2019, even fearmongering to their base about abortion might not be able to save Democrats.

We may have paid too much attention to polls before 2022. But that should not lead anyone to dismiss the idea that Biden’s unpopularity matters, or to forget precisely how toxic his brand is today.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.

We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...

The AMAC Action Logo

Support AMAC Action. Our 501 (C)(4) advances initiatives on Capitol Hill, in the state legislatures, and at the local level to protect American values, free speech, the exercise of religion, equality of opportunity, sanctity of life, and the rule of law.

Donate Now
Share this article:
Notify of
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

The polls don’t matter. Do you see any Democrat senior leadership sweating that Biden is going to announce he is running again next week? Even with dismal approval ratings amongst Democrats, the DNC and Congressional Democrats are pretty much unconcerned. The reason is very straightforward and simple. If we go into 2024 with essentially the same “emergency pandemic voting rules” that we had in 2020, which pretty much checked off every single thing you would NEVER allow if you wanted free and fair elections, to be permissible, the outcome is pretty much assured. So unless something radically changes in our voting procedures between now and early 2024, Democrats are pretty much assured of “winning” in 5 of the 6 key swing states. Which will put them over the top in the Electoral College. So Democrats are NOT sweating the polls. When you control all the means of manipulating the ballots and their final counts, in the only states that really matter in a presidential election, all you have to do is just manufacture the necessary ballots, have them filled out ahead of time and then gradually feed them into the system once voting starts. They will of course have more than enough extra ballots filled out and dumped into those swing state tallies on election night to ensure wins those crucial states.

Anyone still remember how at about 2:30 – 3:00 in the morning almost identical counts of over 250,000 ballots just happened to occur in a number of those swing states to drastically alter the outcome? So if you want an election that actually reflects the current polls and not the slam dunk the Democrats are planning for, the people in those key swing states have to force their state legislatures and governors to end the farce that is mass mail-in voting with little to no real voter verification process.

1 year ago

Why should anyone care about polls when dishonest election outcomes no longer reflect the will of the voter?

David Millikan
David Millikan
1 year ago

Why don’t they ever tell the true poll ratings? Beijing biden’s true approval rating is less than 25%. Only the FAKE news and FAKE Polls have Beijing biden’s approval above 30%.

Gabe Hanzeli
Gabe Hanzeli
1 year ago

polls are BS. the way they ask the questions. the population they survey, the weighting they put on the answers and the choice of statistical tools all create variation in results.

Ask a group of NYC people if trump shoudl be hung in public just for fun and you woudl get a 70% yes response. ask the same question in Wyoming and you will get a 5% yes response.

Patriot Will
Patriot Will
1 year ago

It should never be forgotten that even though President Carter was an ineffectual president, at least he was mainly honest. On the other hand. Biden is not only ineffectual, he is also incompetent and unethical. He is deliberately destroying our Constitution and acting more like a dictator who does not want compromise or debate. Biden is a total disgrace

1 year ago

I always find someone in the comments that have the same opinion as me. Not this time. If your a politician of any party in DC…I don’t like you. There are standouts in some instances. Elections have gotten irrelevant. They used to be fair. Enough said.

1 year ago

Hey faux RR, you are the one who ought to be ashamed. I do not believe the man himself would walk across the street to shake you hand if he heard all of the hot air you have expelled pretending to honor his name. You are a poor excuse for someone pretending to think. I bet you really a dem or a socialist troll.

1 year ago

In my opinion, polls are still one indicator of voter sentiment. The last poll I have seen show that both Biden & Trump have approval ratings of less than 50%. That is a indicator that both parties must bring a new candidate to the 2024 elections, or things will continue to go downhill as they have for past few years. There has to be one person out there that believes that USA cannot continue to increase our National Debt.

An older blonde women laughing in the kitchen with a grey haired man.
AMAC’s Medicare Advisory Service
The knowledge, guidance, and choices of coverage you’re looking for. The exceptional service you deserve.
The AMAC App on 3 different iPhone
Download the AMAC App
The AMAC App is the place to go for insightful news wherever you are and whenever you want.
U.S. Air Force Uniform with DEI written on pocket
nasa; science and physics
Patrick Henry. Oil on canvas
rishi sunak; british; conservative

Stay informed! Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter.

"*" indicates required fields

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x

Subscribe to AMAC Daily News and Games