What Drives Biden’s Job Approval

In the previous article I examined the effects of five factors on fluctuations in the Democrats’ lead on the generic ballot.

  • the job-approval rating of President Biden;
  • the number of days remaining before the election when the poll is conducted;
  • features of the polls themselves like the types of methods used and the identities of the polling organizations;
  • the influence of key economic variables like inflation and specifically the price of gas;
  • the effect of events like the fall of Kabul and the passage of the American Rescue Plan.

I will use this same framework to examine how Biden’s job-approval rating varied with changes in the other measures on that list.

I begin with a reminder that Biden’s approval rating had a much smaller effect on the generic ballot than did Donald Trump’s approval rating. Still, Biden’s approval rating has fluctuated substantially over the course of his time in office. He took office with some 53 percent of the public approving. His rating quickly fell after the Afghanistan withdrawal and continued to decline over much of the remainder of his Presidency, reaching a nadir of just 38 percent in July of this year. Because only 0.13 of changes in his approval rating appear on the generic ballot, that fifteen-point fall in Biden’s approval would have cost his party nearly two points on the generic ballot (-15 x 0.13 = -1.95).

Of course, Presidential approval ratings are worth studying for themselves as much as for their effects on the generic ballot. Again the detailed regression results appear as a separate technical appendix here. I used those results to decompose Biden’s net approval into two components that I’ve called “fundamentals” and “events.”

For the fundamentals I start with the model’s constant term then add the effect of gasoline prices. Those prices stood at $3.796 on the day before the election. According to the model, we must multiply that price by -3.7 to calculate its effect on Biden’s approval which comes to -15.9.

Of course the price of gasoline is never zero, so this effect will always be negative. When Biden took office, the average price of a gallon of gas across the country stood at $2.39. So between Biden’s inauguration and this midterm election, gasoline prices rose $1.40 ($3.79 – $2.39), which cost the President over five points (-3.7 x $1.40 = -5.2) on his net job approval.

Events, most often ones outside Biden’s control,2 also had substantial effects on his approval. The messy withdrawal from Afghanistan cost Biden nearly ten points. His approval fell six points after the fall of the Afghan capital Kabul, and another three points a bit over a week later when a terrorist bombing at the Kabul airport killed 170 Afghan civilians and thirteen US military personnel.

Since then events that proved significant have favored Biden. He picked up six points after Russia invaded Ukraine, and another three points when the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago. Surprisingly, given the range and scope of the legislation Biden passed through Congress, only the weak-sauce firearms bill had any measurable effect. Perhaps the fact that it was the first firearms bill in thirty years and attracted some Republican support gave it traction with voters.