What Undermined Biden’s Popularity?

On June 1, Joe Biden’s job approval rating was 53.3% in the RealClearPolitics polling average, with a net approval of plus-11.3. In modern politics, plus-11.3 net approval is impressive. Donald Trump never posted a number that high, and Barack Obama only did so at the very beginning and end of his two terms in office. Unfortunately for Biden, the initial good feelings that marked his first few months have long since disappeared, and as of Oct. 28, his net approval had descended to minus-9.7 percentage points. That 21-point drop has turned Biden into a drag on his party’s midterm ambitions instead of the touted asset some had initially pictured.

Amid a summer and early fall full of depressing news, it’s no surprise that Biden’s approval plummeted. The more interesting question is why it fell so far so fast. Which event pushed Biden below water? Was it the rise of the coronavirus delta variant just as Americans were starting to return to life unmasked? Or was it the chaotic exit from Afghanistan, which left 13 Americans dead in a devastating terrorist attack and saw the Taliban reassert control over the country with shocking speed?

Our assessment of RealClearPolitics averages and YouGov/Economist polling is that it was both.

Although Biden’s approval was already falling, the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan accelerated the decline.

Afghanistan began to dominate the news on Aug. 13, 2021. To be sure, major news organizations reported on the Taliban’s march across the country in the preceding weeks, but it was only as the Taliban closed in on Kabul that the story took top billing. From Aug. 13 through Aug. 23, the New York Times featured Afghanistan as its top story every day. The rise of the delta variant seems to have already taken a significant toll on Biden to that point, with about half his decline in approval occurring before Aug. 13. On June 9, Biden stood at 54% approval and 41.1% disapproval in the RCP average, giving him a net rating of plus-12.9. By Aug. 12 — the day before Afghanistan took over the new cycle — his net approval had dropped 8.7 percentage points to plus-4.2.

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