Many voters right now are separating their views of President Biden from their voting intentions — that is, they are willing to back a Democratic candidate this November even if they don’t think Biden is doing a good job. This is one of the few good omens for the party’s electoral prospects and a path for Democrats to avoid a total blowout this November.
Only 39 percent of Americans approve of Biden, compared with 56 percent who disapprove, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average of recent polls. But 43 percent would support a Democratic candidate for Congress, while 45 percent of Americans say they will back a Republican, per FiveThirtyEight. So some voters who don’t like Biden will support a Democratic candidate, and an even larger bloc doesn’t like Biden but isn’t sold on congressional Republicans.
To be sure, polls this far out from an election aren’t very predictive. Nevertheless, there is a real chance Democrats will far outperform Biden’s approval rating, and perhaps even keep control of the House and Senate and win key gubernatorial races in November.
Why? First, many of the people who say they disapprove of Biden also don’t like Republicans and are almost certain to vote Democratic, if they vote at all. Biden’s approval rating has declined by 12 percentage points since the start of his term, according to tracking by the Economist. If those breaking with the president were all moderates and swing voters, Democrats would be in deep trouble. But some of Biden’s approval decline is due to Black voters (-17), voters under age 30 (-18), Democrats (-12), liberals (-15) and other left-leaning parts of the electorate growing sour on the president. The overwhelming majority of those people aren’t voting Republican. For example, a recent Post-Ipsos poll of Black adults found that 70 percent approved of Biden’s performance, compared with 28 percent who disapproved. But 88 percent of Black adults indicated they would vote for congressional Democrats this fall, compared with only 9 percent support for Republicans.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that only 26 percent of Georgia voters ages 18-34 approved of Biden, but 61 percent of people in that age group said they were backing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Democrats don’t have to convince these voters that Biden is doing a great job — they only need to convince them that the party overall has done enough and that putting Republicans in charge will make things worse. That’s not a hard case to make. Ideally, in the months before the election, Democrats take actions that would excite people who are deciding between voting Democratic and not voting at all, such as forgiving student loans and adopting whatever climate change proposal can get 50 votes in the Senate. The details emerging from the investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and former president Donald Trump’s continued presence in American politics will help Democrats in making the case to sporadic voters that the 2022 election is as important as the ones in 2018 and 2020. In those two elections, young people, Black voters and other left-leaning groups voted at very high rates, helping boost Democrats.
The party also needs to win over some swing voters, particularly people who have backed Republican candidates in the past but were leery of Trump and his political approach. And the Republicans are providing Democrats a big assist here. In races across the country, including in swing districts and states, Republicans are nominating Trump-loving politicians who don’t accept the 2020 election results as legitimate and, in some cases, were actively involved in trying to overturn them, as well as having extreme views on a number of other issues.
Trump essentially forced Republicans to make ex-football star Herschel Walker the party’s candidate in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race. Walker’s numerous personal controversies and inexperience in politics make him an ideal opponent for Democrats in a state they just barely won in 2020. In Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, Republicans nominated Doug Mastriano, who enthusiastically embraced false claims that Trump won the state in 2020 and who wants a total ban on abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. Facing such flawed opponents, incumbent Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is currently tied in the polls against Walker, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is ahead of Mastriano in the governor’s race.
I don’t want to overstate the Democrats’ chances. They are facing a tough history — the party in control of the presidency almost always loses ground, particularly in the House. They are also facing an angry electorate that may just want to toss out any Democrat they can, because of high inflation and a general sense that the party is ineffective. It’s not clear whether the party’s most important voice, Biden, can shift from his comfort zones, talking about the economy and emphasizing bipartisanship, to potentially more fertile terrain — casting the Republicans as radical, particularly on such issues as abortion and gun control. Finally, polls in both 2016 and 2020 overstated the Democrats’ standing, so the surveys we have seen this year could be similarly flawed.
I still think the most likely scenario for this November’s elections is Republicans winning the House, Senate and most key gubernatorial races. But if you were looking for conditions where the traditional norms of politics wouldn’t apply, 2022 has them: The favored party’s leader is being investigated for his role in a scheme to overturn the prior election; its Supreme Court appointees just eliminated what had been a valued constitutional right; many of its candidates can be accurately described as extreme. Maybe the Democrats can win this November — and I sure hope they do.