Talking Points

COVID catches up to Biden

President Biden's job approval ratings are slipping for the first time as the pandemic, thought to be vanquished by the vaccines, comes roaring back. 

A Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday found 47 percent of registered voters approved of the job Biden was doing, good for a 3-point net approval rating. He did a little better in an Economist/YouGov survey, but was still at just 49 percent approval. A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted late last month is the most recent to have him above 50 percent.

When a Gallup tracking poll found Biden at exactly 50 percent, the firm said he was "showing the first signs of meaningful decline" in popular support as president. Only 48 percent of independents approved. An ABC News/Ipsos poll found him in the 30s on immigration, crime, and gun violence.

While those issues have been perennial problems for Biden, managing the pandemic has always been an area of strength. But even that is fading as vaccinations slow, the Delta variant rages, and breakthrough cases are reported. Quinnipiac saw his COVID approval rating tumble from 65 percent to 53 percent, with disapproval up from 30 percent to 40 percent. 

The public seems to be moving in Biden's direction on mask mandates following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updated guidance, perhaps explaining his stepped up criticism of certain Republican governors. But those numbers also reflect increasing worry about the virus after it looked like the country had turned the corner.

Biden wanted the pandemic to be over and now it is not. A similar, pre-vaccine miscalculation by former President Trump a year ago cost him the country's confidence on the coronavirus — and possibly any chance of re-election.

Still, Biden has two advantages over Trump as he tries to set things right in the next few months. One is that he can tap into a reservoir of goodwill on the virus that his predecessor never built up. The other is that this isn't happening in the middle of a presidential election year. The last two Democratic presidents have taken a beating early on, and again in the midterms, only to rebound two years later.

That offers little comfort to congressional Democrats defending razor-thin majorities, however. One top Democratic operative predicted that if Biden's approval is below 50 percent by year's end, "we're probably f---ed."