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Poll: Biden is Losing Support Among Independents

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The past few weeks have been particularly rough for President Joe Biden's approval ratings. Many of these polls have come out as the chaos in Afghanistan gets worse. There is usually at least a question or two asking respondents how they approve of Biden's handling of the withdrawal, which is to say that they don't approve. But, that's not the only story to do with the polls. A write-up for a poll released on Friday by Reuters notes that "Biden shedding support from independent voters as Delta variant spreads."

The write-up, by Chris Kahn and James Oliphant, focuses on Afghanistan and, as the title suggests, the president's approval of his handling on the pandemic.

What's particularly noteworthy about the latter is that the president used to fare quite well in the polls on this issue. He even had support from Republicans once upon a time. And while a majority of respondents still approve of his handling of the pandemic, it's by a much slimmer majority.

From the write-up:

The national opinion poll, conducted Aug. 13-19, found that Biden’s net approval among independents dropped by 14 percentage points overall since June, and by 19 points for his handling of the coronavirus. Still, a slim majority of independents - 53% - said they approve of Biden's pandemic response.

A section aptly titled "BROADER EROSION" warns:

After largely favoring Biden over Republican incumbent Donald Trump in the 2020 election, independents are now evenly split in their support for the president: 46% approve of Biden’s performance in office, while 46% disapprove. Two months ago, 52% of independents approved of Biden's overall performance, while 38% disapproved.

The decline is part of a broader erosion in Biden’s popularity among all Americans as the president deals with the pandemic and the fallout from Afghanistan. Last week, Reuters/Ipsos polling showed that for the first time in his presidency more Americans disapproved of Biden than approved of him.

Among all Americans, Biden's net approval for the coronavirus dropped by 21 points from June to August: 55% approved of his handling of the virus, down 10 points from June, while 39% disapproved, which was up by 11 points.

His net approval was relatively stable elsewhere - dropping between 3 and 5 points over the same period on the economy, immigration and the environment.

And when it comes to how Biden is regarded for his handling of the pandemic:

Last year in his campaign against Trump, Biden made bringing the pandemic to an end a centerpiece of his message, pledging a return to a degree of normalcy by this summer.

Instead, a wave of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, largely among those who have refused to get vaccinated, has bedeviled his administration.

"(Biden) owns the coronavirus issue now," said Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver. "A lot of people thought it would be over by now, and instead it’s back."

The write-up refers to the importance of Independents favoring Biden in the 2020 election. There's much more thorough analysis out there too to really drive this point home.

A November exit poll analysis from The Washington Post regarded Biden's win with Independents/Others as one of the "the biggest demographic shifts in the 2020 election."

"While Trump won over independents by four points nationally in 2016 against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Biden saw one of his largest pickups among that group — winning a 54 percent majority of independents, a 12-point rise from Clinton’s 42 percent showing in 2016," the analysis goes on to note.

Such an analysis from CBS News also made note of how Independents voted. A section titled "Independents: Big shift to Biden," noted that "Independents went narrowly for Mr. Trump in 2016 (by 4 points) but swung to Biden this year. He won with a 14-point lead among them nationally," which was "the largest margin recorded among this group since Bill Clinton won independents in his reelection bid in 1996."

And again, this warning about Biden doing poorly on the issues, including and especially, but not merely Afghanistan and the pandemic, isn't unique to Reuters.

Even CNN had to admit that "It's not just Afghanistan -- Americans are losing faith in Biden on many issues," via analysis from Henry Enten. 

From his analysis:

President Joe Biden's approval rating is at its lowest point in his presidency. In the average of polls, he stands at about 47%. That's a steady decline from the beginning of this month (51%), last month (52%) and beginning of June (54%).

It would be easy to assign Biden's decline to the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, but, as the data shows, Biden has been trending downward for a while. The truth is that he is losing ground on a number of key issues.

The coronavirus pandemic, for example, had been one of Biden's best issues. He was trusted more than former President Donald Trump to handle it in poll after poll during last year's election. Trump likely would have won in 2020 had people trusted him more.

Biden's approval rating on the coronavirus had consistently been in the 60s for the first six months of his presidency. That declined to the high 50s in July and has been sunk to the 50s in the month of August.

In writing that "Biden's overall approval rating has declined at a similar rate to his coronavirus pandemic approval rating," Enten also further illustrates how crucial it his to examine how the president is regarded on this issue.

But, Enten's concerns are not merely to do with the pandemic, far from it. The economy is a big one too:

Biden's also seen his numbers on the economy drop. During August, Biden's average approval rating on the economy has been just 47%. That's down from the 51% it averaged during the month of July.

Again, this drop can be assigned to a reaction to real world events. Consumer sentiment declined greatly during the first half of August, according to the University of Michigan.

The decline of Biden's economic approval rating should be worrying to him. As I noted previously, Biden's economic approval rating has been closely tied to his overall approval rating. Right now, both of them are at 47% in the average of polls.

Worse for Biden is that the economy is viewed as the second most important problem (behind the coronavirus), according to Gallup. It shouldn't be surprising, therefore, that a drop in Biden's economic approval rating coincides with a drop in his overall approval rating.

It's natural that Enten would mention Afghanistan, but he seems to truly emphasize how bad the situation is for Biden from a change in support perspective:

In July, before the troop withdrawal, Biden averaged a 58% approval rating when it came to getting the troops out of Afghanistan.

Biden's average approval rating on Afghanistan stands at a mere 34% today. You rarely see anything close to a 24-point drop on a president's handling of an issue in such a short period of time.

Many of us will recall how analyses will point out, some even seemingly bragging, about how Biden has always performed better than Trump. That may not be the case for much longer, as Enten also warned:

Indeed, the entire mood of the country has taken a dive recently. Just 33% of the country say the country is going in the right direction in an average of recent polling.

This 33% is notable because optimism in the country under Biden had been reaching levels it hadn't seen in a long time. At the beginning of last month, 43% of Americans agreed the country was going in the right direction. The last time 43% said the country was going in the right direction was back in 2009.

The current 33% is much more like the readings we saw on this metric during the Trump administration.

Enten closes his piece by saying the such steep shifts "may be an indication that Biden's once stable ratings are more susceptible to shifting around that was previously thought." He may not be speaking on behalf as many people as he and CNN might think he does though with such a line.

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