There’s been a lot of focus lately on President Biden’s sagging approval ratings. After a pretty steady (and positive) six months, Biden’s overall job approval ratings slid over the summer — especially August. At the beginning of May, Biden’s job approval rating in the FiveThirtyEight average was 54 percent to 41.1 percent disapproval (+12.9). By early July, his net job approval was down 4 points to +9.8. By early August, the net approval was down another 2 points to +8. Today, Biden is barely above water at 48.3 percent to 46.1 percent (+2.2).
But, what should be more worrisome for Biden (and Democrats overall), is that the intensity of opposition to the president is also on the rise, while strong approval has dropped. In fact, for the first time, recent polling shows net strong disapproval of Biden at a nearly equal level to that of former president Trump at this point in his tenure.
Why does this matter?
Elections, especially midterms, are driven by enthusiasm. And, the party out of power is almost always much more motivated to vote than the party in power. Most recently, we saw this mismatch in voter intensity in 2018 when Democrats turned out in force to send a message to a president they deeply disliked.
For most of the spring and early summer, the difference between President Biden’s “strong” approval ratings (i.e., those who love him) and his “strong” disapproval ratings (i.e., those who loathe him) was pretty balanced. For example, when I averaged the difference between strong approval and strong disapproval in the March/April polls for Quinnipiac, Marist, Fox, AP/NORC, Washington Post/ABC, and NBC, Biden’s net strong disapproval was only slightly higher than strong approval (-1.5).
This was a marked difference from President Trump, who spent his entire presidency deeply underwater. In fact, in the spring of 2017, more Americans “strongly disapproved” than “strongly approved” of Trump by double-digit margins.
However, as the summer has worn on, the intensity of opposition to Biden has increased as solid approval has waned. For example, in May, Marist polling showed the difference between strong approve/strong disapprove of Biden at 26 percent to 30 percent (-4). By June, that net difference was up to -11. This month, that difference has ballooned to -22 points (19 percent strong approval to 41 percent strong disapproval). That matches up to Trump’s showing at this point in 2017, when Marist polling showed the then GOP president at 22 percent strong approval to 37 percent strong disapproval (-15). Same thing with the ABC/Washington Post polling. Back in June, Biden’s net strong approval to strong disapproval was -5. In late August/early September, it was up to -17, very close to where the ABC/Washington Post poll pegged Trump’s September 2017 net strong approval/strong disapproval (-22).
Bottom line: angry people vote, complacent or disappointed ones don’t. As such, the increase in strong dissatisfaction of President Biden is an important metric to watch closely over these next few months.