Biden’s Low Approval Rating Tells a Complicated Story about the Future of the Party and Young Voting Trends

Kash Jain ’24

Opinion Editor

Presidential approval ratings are generally one of the most important barometers of public opinion in regard to politics and policy. They can help indicate how voters feel about the president’s agenda and actions, and even help predict election results.

With the 2022 midterm elections occurring in a little over fifty days, President Biden’s approval rating has been one of a number of a number of factors that pundits, forecasters, and everyday voters have increasingly paid attention to. 

As partisan sorting has grown more severe, it has become rare for a president to enjoy a prolonged stretch of favorability; voters are more inclined to approve of a president of their party and disapprove of one from the opposition, regardless of what is going on in the current moment. In essence, people have chosen a side—a party—that they now stick with, and hold intensely negative views of the opposition.

So, it comes as no surprise that both Trump and Biden have consistently polled poorly, with the former, according to Gallup, never having the approval of a majority of voters.

FiveThirtyEight’s current polling average finds that 42.5% of Americans approve of Biden, with 53% disapproving of him, setting his overall favorability at -10.5%. On its face, this should be a massive red flag for Democrats; even with the ails of partisan sorting and increased division, an approval gap this stark could hint at greater issues for the party. 

However, a closer look at the data tells a more complicated story. The most recent NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll, conducted from August 29 to September 1, found that 41% of registered voters approve of Biden’s performance as president, and 54% disapprove of it. Unsurprisingly, 6% of Republicans approve of Biden compared to 92% that disapprove of him. However, only 79% of Democrats approve of Biden compared to 13% that disapprove of him. Despite the intensity of partisan alignment in this era, a fairly significant number of Democrats do not approve of the president of their party. This includes some of the core groups in the Democratic Party’s base. Just 43% of Gen Z and Millennial respondents approve of Biden compared to 52% that disapprove of him. This statistic would seem especially alarming for Democrats—low support among one of their core groups, a group whose voting power will likely increase with time, could signal major trouble ahead for the President and his party.

Understanding the reasons for this low support and how it functions is necessary to fully understand the implications of Biden’s approval rating. Though younger voters are still shaping their mark on the electoral world, it is clear that they skew more to the left than older voters. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in February 2020, during the Democratic presidential primaries, found that 54% of Democratic voters aged 18-34 supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, compared to only 6% that supported Biden. Overall, according to the same poll, 24% of Democrats supported Sanders compared to 19% that supported Biden; while Biden did outrun Sanders outright, he disproportionately outran him among younger voters. 

Sanders has served as one of the standard-bearers of the progressive movement, while many have viewed Biden as an establishment, more moderate Democrat. The support from younger voters that Sanders and other progressives have enjoyed over the past few years indicates that younger voters are generally to the left of much of the party. So, it makes sense that younger voters would be dissatisfied with a president they view as too moderate and not fully aligned with their stances.

Returning to the implications of Biden’s approval rating, it’s unlikely that dissatisfaction with Biden really spells out disaster for him or for Democrats. In the NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll, 48% of registered voters said that they would vote for Democrats if the midterm elections were held today, compared to 44% who would support Republicans. Among Gen Z and Millennial respondents, 57% said they would vote for Democrats compared to only 34% who would vote for Republicans. While Democrats should understand the ideological leanings of their base, recognize that many of their voters are more progressive, and continue to take stances and run candidates that meet these voters’ expectations, neither the party nor Biden need to be overly concerned about young, dissatisfied voters turning to the Republican Party. Ultimately, the issue of turnout is what matters here—young voters dissatisfied with Biden aren’t likely to switch parties, but they may not show up at the polls for Democrats and Biden.

Biden’s approval rating has increased by over four points from late July due to a series of legislative wins and major executive actions. While the division of politics today means that Biden’s approval ceiling is quite low, voter support, including among core Democratic groups, is increasing. This coupled with a closer reading of his approval rating indicates that neither Biden nor his party are in serious danger; still, there is much to be gained by understanding that many more progressive voters are dissatisfied with Biden, especially as we head to the 2022 midterms and begin to look toward the 2024 presidential election. 

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