For roughly the first six months of his administration, President Joe Biden enjoyed favorable approval numbers well above 50%.
The slide began in July when COVID-19 infection rates, driven by the delta variant surge, started rising significantly nationwide. Then, in August, Biden’s disastrous handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal intensified his popularity plunge.
The White House seems to be oblivious to the problem – at least publicly – and points to the two infrastructure bills (the $1.2 trillion “hard” infrastructure bill that Biden signed into law on November 15, and the $1.75 trillion-plus bill currently pending before Congress) as the vehicles that, when passed, will reverse his poor polling.
This is wishful thinking because, since July, a clear pattern has now emerged, and this pattern explains why Biden’s overall approval rate today stands at just 43%.
The president and his administration keep saying things that Americans can see with their own eyes aren’t factually true.
Biden promised us a normal July 4 holiday. Then COVID-19 cases exploded.
Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared the Afghanistan withdrawal a “success.” It clearly wasn’t. The entire world watched as serial disasters unfolded.
Biden’s Homeland Security secretary said our southern border was closed. It wasn’t and still isn’t. Illegal border crossings have reached record numbers.
Biden and the Federal Reserve (along with several economists inside and outside the administration) announced that inflation would be “transitory.” It isn’t, and there’s a lot of scrambling underway to explain last month’s annualized figure of 6.2% inflation, the fastest rate in three decades.
Biden announced mandatory vaccination legislation to combat the spread of COVID-19 for businesses employing 100 or more employees. That approach, so far, has been blocked by two federal District Court and Court of Appeals rulings and faces an uphill battle in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Biden has waged nonstop war against America’s fossil-fuel industry while also supporting climate-change legislation focused on a Green New Deal agenda of transitioning to clean and sustainable energy energy sources such as wind and solar power. So why is Biden literally begging OPEC and Russia to increase their fossil-fuel production levels to help lower gasoline and heating-fuel costs? Every American who drives a car or a truck knows how much gasoline prices have risen since last year.
Biden appears to have learned nothing from this month’s election results in New Jersey and Virginia, two states that he won handily in last year’s presidential election. Democratic spokespersons point to poor messaging rather than poor substance.
Biden tasked his vice president, Kamala Harris, with, so far, three initiatives: determining the origins of the southern border crisis, shepherding voting rights legislation through Congress and strengthening relations with our oldest ally, France. Thus far, Vice President Harris has virtually nothing to show for her efforts other than a slew of gaffes and an approval rating of 28%, the lowest registered for any American vice president.
So now, when the Biden administration announces that its “soft” infrastructure bill will not cost a penny, there is, understandably, considerable skepticism. Moreover, the centrist budget and deficit watchdog group, the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, along with the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, have produced analyses that both identify the “gimmicks” and the projected actual costs of the proposed legislation. Guess what? The cost is well above zero.
Biden has said that the American people support the programs included in his “soft” infrastructure package while also noting that Americans don’t really know what’s in the bill. Perhaps there’s a disconnect here based on how such polling questions are framed initially? Americans cannot simultaneously support legislation and also be unaware of its content. (Actually, according to Speaker Pelosi, Congress does this frequently.)
The president’s approval numbers will remain underwater as long as he and his administration continue to distort the reality that Americans see for themselves every day. But let’s be clear: the problems Biden and his team face are not the result of poor communications. The administration’s problems result from the impact of poor policies and decisions which they then try to spin differently.
While a significant reset is required, it won’t be easy and should entail significant, internal personnel changes.
The administration’s problem is its credibility, the loss of which will be difficult to regain. It turns out that fact-checkers don’t exist just in the mainstream media. With inflation rising along with other problems Americans can perceive for themselves, the country now has 330 million daily fact-checkers.
Charles Kolb served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy from 1990-1992 in the George H.W. Bush White House