Which raises a simple but profound question: How low can Biden go? Put another way, is there a built-in floor for Biden’s approval rating? Or might he continue to trend lower and lower?
The best way to figure out what the future might hold is to look at what the past tells us. And luckily, we have the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center
, which has approval numbers for every president going back to Harry Truman.
Let’s look then at where recent presidents bottomed out in terms of job approval.
* Barack Obama 40% (At several points in 2013 and 2014)
* George W. Bush 25% (October 2008)
* Bill Clinton 37% (June 1993)
* George H.W. Bush 29% (July/August 1992)
* Ronald Reagan 35% (January 1983)
The average of the lowest job approval ratings of the six previous president is 33%.
Now, let’s dig into some details.
The lowest approval rating among the group is George W. Bush in the fall of 2008. What happened?
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — very early in his presidency — Bush’s job approval rating soared to 90% (not a typo) in Gallup polling. But for the rest of his White House tenure, his numbers dropped and dropped and dropped.
As the Pew Research Center wrote in its overview of Bush’s job approval
“American deaths continued in Iraq, the government bungled the response to the devastating Hurricane Katrina in late 2005 and political scandal reached directly into the White House. Soon, economic troubles started to mount, and in 2008, the economy went into a dangerous free fall that led to controversial and expensive government intervention in financial markets.”
Then there’s Trump, who never experienced anything close to the polling highs of Bush. Trump started his presidency at 44% approval, according to Gallup, and never saw that number go above 49% in the firm’s surveys. While Trump’s (low) numbers were generally consistent, his worst approval ratings came at the very end of his term, as even some of the people who had been for him turned in the wake of the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol.
What does all of that tell us?
That there’s a possibility that Biden’s numbers go lower.
The presidents whose approval ratings are below where Biden is today were battered by a series of crises on a variety of fronts. Which, well, seems to fit Biden. He continues to struggle amid the public’s concerns over inflation, gas prices and the (still) ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
That’s not to say that Biden isn’t at his bottom now, but just rather to note that the factors that have driven past presidents’ approval ratings lower do exist for him at the moment.
That all should result in further panic running through the Democratic Party. The single biggest predictor of how a president’s party will do in a midterm election is what that president’s approval looks like. As of 2018, the average House seat loss
when a president’s job approval is below 50% is 37 seats, according to Gallup. (When a president is over 50% approval, the average seat loss for his party is 14 seats.)
So while it remains to be seen if Biden will keep sinking or whether his numbers will stabilize somewhat, it’s already clear that he is very, very likely to be a drag on the Democrats in four months’ time.