The Intensity Factor

AW
July 13, 2021

One of the hardest things to do in politics is to keep your voters engaged and motivated to vote in the midterm elections after your party wins a presidential election. This is especially true if your party controls all three branches of government. In midterm years, only the most committed (read: most angry or anxious) come out to vote. 

I like to compare the midterm electorate to people who call customer service. Most people pick up the phone (and stay on through interminable wait times) only when they are really angry. Very few pick up the phone (and sit on hold) to thank a company for their fantastic service.

Which brings us to the fight raging over the issue of voting rights. Major League Baseball moved this week’s All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver to protest new voter laws passed by the GOP legislature in the spring. To oppose GOP-penned legislation in Texas, House Democrats fled the state and are currently camped out in DC to make their case to congressional Democrats to find a way to pass federal voting rights legislation. Finally, President Biden trekked up to Philadelphia on Tuesday to make the “moral case” at the Constitution Center for why these new laws that limit voter accessibility “un-American” and “un-democratic.”

Notably, however, Biden has not called on Democratic senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to drop their objections to nixing the filibuster, which could make passing Democratic-written voting legislation much easier. 

But, will Democrats’ frustration with new state laws be enough to get them out to vote in 2022? Or, will that anger turn to apathy and frustration with their own party come next fall?

Right now, while Biden continues to get solid marks from his own partisans, they are not nearly as excited about him as Republicans are angry with him.

For example, the three most recent major polls — ABC/Washington Post, Marist and Fox — put Biden’s job approval ratings with Democrats in the 89-94 percent range. Among Republicans, anywhere from 78 percent to 88 percent say they disapprove of the job the president is doing. But, the difference in intensity is what stands out. 

Anywhere from 54 percent to 73 percent of Democrats don’t just approve of the job Biden is doing but STRONGLY approve of how he’s conducting himself as president. But, a higher percentage of Republicans — 78 percent to 91 percent — don’t just disapprove of Biden but STRONGLY disapprove of him. 


The intensity of approval/disapproval


This intensity differential was on display during the Trump era as well. In fact, at this point in 2017, a Marist poll found that 86 percent of all Democratic disapprovers STRONGLY disapproved of Trump, while just 65 percent of all Republican approvers STRONGLY approved of the then-Republican president. 

However, the big difference between Trump and Biden — and something to watch closely for this next year — is Biden’s stronger showing among independent voters. 

While Biden’s approval ratings among independents aren’t all that great (+2 in the Marist and Washington Post/ABC surveys), it’s a LOT better than where Trump was at this point in June of 2017 when just one-third of independents gave him positive marks. A Gallup poll in June of 2017 found Trump’s approval rating among independent voters at -24. Moreover, at this point in 2017, three-quarters of those independents who disapproved of Trump strongly disapproved of him. In other words, it wasn’t just that Trump had low approval ratings with independent voters, the intensity of the disapproval was also incredibly high. For Biden, a bigger percentage of independent disapprovers are strongly opposed to Biden than independent approvers love him. However, the percent of independents who dislike Biden is anywhere from 11 to 16 points lower than where Trump stood at this point. 

And, it’s cratering approval with independent voters that has marked a disastrous mid-term election for the last three presidents. 


Presidential Approval vs. midterm results


While Biden may be a less polarizing personality than Trump, that hasn’t helped to tamp down intense dislike for him among the GOP electorate. What Biden (and Democrats) have to hope for in 2022 is that this level of intense opposition to the president is confined to GOP voters and doesn’t make its way to independents. 

Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci