As the primary season draws to a close with just a handful of states left to decide who will enter midterm battles, the overarching narrative so far has been one of power, persuasion, and publicity. But behind each individual contest has been a grander picture, that of former President Donald Trump’s continuing influence on the GOP. The media have gleefully cast every Republican race as a referendum on 45. And yet the idea that American voters are delivering a verdict is perhaps one that should be more suitably applied to President Joe Biden.
Joe Biden’s Personal Referendum
The pollsters at Rasmussen have been tracking this notion for the last several years: Do voters see the present midterm elections as a referendum on the sitting commander-in-chief? The answer is yes, according to the most recent survey on this topic; results indicate that 46% of likely voters agree. A further 40% say the elections will be more about individual candidates and issues; 14% are undecided. With almost half of respondents saying their ballots will be based on Biden’s performance in office rather than specific congressional or gubernatorial races, surely the media’s insistence upon the “Trump referendum” is not the big story.
According to RealClearPolitics, Biden’s current approval rating aggregate is 43% — a solid improvement from the dark days of July and August when he was polling in the 30s. However, his disapproval is a heady 53.5%, putting him more than ten points underwater. That his popularity is suffering so badly is an indictment of those who voted against Trump in the hopes that kicking a divisive president to the curb would initiate a phase of national unity and togetherness.
In fact, digging deeper into the Rasmussen numbers, 40% of Democrat voters felt the upcoming midterms were a judgment on the current president, a sentiment echoed by 38% of those not affiliated with either party. For Republicans, 60% favored this position. The results certainly suggest that a large swath of the electorate is ready to engage in referendum thinking, but does that mean it’s all bad news for Biden?
Let’s Talk Track
One of the most usable tools for measuring public opinion is the Right Direction/Wrong Track rubric. This data set scores Zeitgeist rather than specific issues or personalities and, as such, tends to level out hot-button, knee-jerk responses. For President Biden, these numbers have been remarkably stable.
After an initial bout of optimism over the new White House occupant that ended roughly around the time of the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal, the number of poll respondents saying the country is heading in the “right direction” has hovered around 30%. Those who believe the nation is stuck on the “wrong track” have also been correspondingly stable, between 60% and 65%.
The optimist could assume that it is predominantly Republicans who feel negative about America’s chief navigation officer and, therefore, these polling figures should not be a cause for Democrat concern. Unfortunately for Biden, however, more than 50% of Dem voters are now choosing the “wrong track” option.
A Numbers Game
With over half of Democrat voters believing the country is in a tailspin, and almost half saying these upcoming midterms are a referendum on Biden, the future legislative prospects of Team Blue do not look good.
The Fourth Estate wanted this election cycle to be a referendum on Trump. It sought to make voters consider how willing they would be to allow America First “Trumpies” to seize power in the chambers of Congress. But perhaps the media will regret that it planted the seed that a single vote can be a loud and clear message of frustration. After all, he who lives by the ballot …