The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The polls are clear: Democratic holdouts are killing Biden

President Biden at the White House on Nov. 6. (Oliver Contreras/The Washington Post)

There’s no sugarcoating it: The new Post-ABC News poll is a brutal read for Democrats. President Biden’s approval rating is at a new low of 41 percent. Fifty-one percent of registered voters say they’ll vote Republican in the 2022 midterms — the best showing for the GOP in the poll’s 40-year history. The good news is that the poll also provides a screamingly obvious remedy.

Perhaps most worryingly for the president, the drop in Biden’s approval rating didn’t come among Republicans or independents, but Democrats — from 86 to 80 percent. The remaining Democratic support is less enthusiastic as well: The share of Democrats who approve strongly of Biden’s performance has declined from 54 to 44 percent. Not that things have plateaued among independents, either: While their overall approval of the president remains the same, their view of his handling of the pandemic and the economy have dropped, from 38 percent approval to 34 percent and 49 percent approval to 44 percent, respectively.

So what’s the problem? It’s not “stupid wokeness,” as some Democratic strategists like James Carville have argued. For example, The Post-ABC poll finds that 70 percent of Americans — including nearly half of Republicansthink schools should teach “how the history of racism affects America today.” That hardly suggests buzzwords like “critical race theory” have much influence outside the right-wing media bubble. And more broadly, if Biden’s poll numbers are dropping because of disappointed Democrats and recently disenchanted independents, caving to talking points that Republicans have flogged for months won’t fix anything.

Instead, The Post-ABC poll suggests two fundamental issues. The first — pandemic-fueled inflation darkening Americans’ perceptions of the economy — would be a struggle for any president. But the latter is entirely of a few Democrats’ making: Just 35 percent of voters say Biden has accomplished much during his first 10 months, while only 31 percent believe he’s keeping his campaign promises. Both are worse scores than Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Barack Obama received ahead of midterm drubbings two years into their presidencies.

Enter the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the Build Back Better social spending bill. The former has 63 percent support in The Post-ABC poll, including an even split among Republicans and nearly 2-to-1 backing from independents. The latter — supposedly the more politically “risky” of the two — does almost as well, with 58 percent backing overall, and a similar level of support from independents. If both are signed into law, it will markedly strengthen Biden’s list of accomplishments.

In addressing concerns about the economy, too, both bills make sense. The president has limited powers for fighting inflation. But as Biden’s National Economic Council director Brian Deese pointed out on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, the infrastructure bill will do more to “help get goods moving more cheaply and freely through the American economy than anything in half a century.” And the expanded child tax credit and other programs in Build Back Better will cushion Americans’ wallets and reduce costs for child care, housing and so on — a valuable lifeline. Some have argued, as Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) did on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, that Build Back Better will only feed inflation. But most serious economists disagree.

Fortunately, the White House itself recognizes this. The poll “underscores why it’s so important to move forward on the Build Back Better bill,” Deese told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. The issue — which has been the case for much of Biden’s tenure — is the rump of conservative Democrats in both houses who have hampered the passage of BBB, and by extension the infrastructure bill that was linked to it, for so long. Even now, Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) is still raising overblown concerns about inflation.

It all feels like deja vu: As with Obama, Biden won office in large part because his Republican predecessor steered the country into crisis. But since cleaning up those messes isn’t easy, as midterms approach disappointment grows. Worse, he’s impeded by moderates and conservatives in his own party who insist on watering down his signature legislation. But this time doesn’t have to be the same. The polls are clear: Passing Biden’s full legislative agenda now gives Democrats the best chance to avoid disaster in the future.