The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Biden’s approval is shifting, but the media’s narrative is not

President Biden takes a selfie with attendees of an event touting the benefits of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at Logan International Airport in Boston on Sept. 12. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Ukraine has made a stunning and dramatic advance in chasing Russia from its territory. Gas prices are dropping. Congress passed a slew of popular legislation over the summer.

Even inflation might be moderating. The Wall Street Journal reports that “many Wall Street analysts estimate the Labor Department’s overall consumer-price index was unchanged or dropped in August from July. If so, it would mark the second straight month of slower inflation since annual inflation surged to a four-decade high in June.”

Polls indicate voters increasingly recognize President Biden’s tide of good news. Alas, much of the mainstream media is stuck in a narrative that paints him as politically toxic. Consider this headline from the New York Times: “Democrats’ Midterm Dilemma: How to Back Biden, Yet Shun Him, Too.”

Presidents arguably receive far too much blame when the economy sours and too much credit when it’s strong. (The same goes for foreign wars or the state of the pandemic.) But given that the media and Republicans seem to blame Biden for everything — from high gas prices to a lingering pandemic to a stalled domestic agenda — it is churlish of them to deny him praise when those issues turn around.

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Voters are rather generous. An Investor’s Business Daily-TIPP poll released on Monday shows that “46% of American adults approve how Biden is handling the presidency, and 48% disapprove. That net [minus-2] approval rating improved from August’s [minus-14], with 39% approval and 53% disapproval.” Even more dramatically, the poll reports, “Adults 18-44 now approve of Biden’s handling of the presidency by a 51%-40% margin. Biden’s net approval of 11 points among younger Americans reversed from net disapproval of 11 points in August.” And independents have drifted back toward Biden from “dire levels” in the last few months.

This might be a more dramatic shift than in other polls. Nonetheless, voters’ attitudes are clearly changing. Near the end of July, Biden’s approval was a net minus-20 in the FiveThirtyEight poll average. Now, it’s about minus-10.

Biden and many Democratic candidates seem to think he is a plus these days. The Post reports: “Biden traveled last week to Wisconsin and Ohio, hitting two more Senate battlegrounds, and many more such trips are expected.” Certainly, candidates in both parties have to calibrate their association with a president who is not well-received in their state. (Sen. Susan Collins sure didn’t campaign in Maine with President Donald Trump in 2020.) But Biden’s rallies are attracting plenty of candidates in swing districts and states. Taking roll and noting which Democrats are absent at these events do not prove he is politically unpopular, let alone toxic.

Virtually all Democrats on the ballot will say that Biden’s recent initiatives — from gun safety to infrastructure spending to investment in semiconductor manufacturing to expanding health care for veterans — are all very popular. That’s why these items and other Biden accomplishments regularly appear in Democratic ads and are mentioned during stump speeches and interviews.

By contrast, if you want to see candidates running from their party and its leader, take a glance at the GOP contenders. Outside of deep-red areas, Trump is rarely mentioned. It’s not as though Republicans in key swing House races that Biden carried are talking about a nationwide abortion ban or impeaching Biden (another item on the MAGA wish list). Since the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, Republicans in close races have rarely name-checked Trump, nor have they echoed others in the party excoriating the FBI.

Arguably, the main media story two months out from the midterms should be “Republicans in disarray!” As one GOP operative told CNN, “Republicans can’t agree on a message, we can’t agree on where to invest [campaign cash], and instead of hashing these things out behind closed doors, we’re bickering about it in public.” Don’t hold your breath that the media will pick up that narrative.