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May 27, 2022 2:04 am

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Why Biden’s confrontation of Putin has barely moved his low polling with Americans

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Joe BidenPresident Joe Biden at the emergency G7 meeting in Brussels last month.

Doug Mills /Pool/AFP/Getty

  • President Biden hasn’t received a Ukraine-related polling bump, despite approval of his leadership.
  • Experts tell Insider they don’t expect that to change anytime.
  • Rather, this is yet another example of the decline of the “rally round the flag effect.”

Americans know there’s a war going on. They just aren’t flocking to their commander-in-chief. From the Cuban Missile Crisis to the aftermath of 9/11, American politics used to have a consistent pattern in presidential approval known as the “rally ’round the flag effect.” But experts say President Joe Biden shouldn’t expect his leadership of the West’s response to Ukraine to rescue his sagging poll numbers anytime soon.

“It’s not like the war in Ukraine isn’t happening, it’s just not impacting his standing with Americans,” Lee Miringoff,  director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, told Insider.

Biden’s approval crashed last summer during a chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal and later a surge in COVID-19 cases. According to FiveThirtyEight’s weighted tracker, Biden remains underwater by roughly 12 percentage points. His disastrous standing only adds to the fears Democrats have about the November elections where they could lose their already-slim control of Congress.

In the latest Marist College poll conducted late March, just 39% of respondents approved of Biden’s job performance. The Marist poll might be one of the few exceptions to whether Biden has received any sort of bump since Russia unleashed the worst war in Europe since WWII on February 24. The March 7 Marist poll showed Biden with a 47% approval rating, his highest since September 2021.

Miringoff attributed that very short bump and then return to the status quo to Democrats “coming home and then wandering off again” after the State of the Union and the initial days of Russia’s war.

While Biden initially received higher marks for his handling of Ukraine, that too might be starting to dissipate. A recent NPR /Ipsos poll found that most Americans don’t like his response. The Washington Post reported that Republican criticism of Biden’s Ukraine policy has also weakened the chance of a bump.

It wasn’t always like this. Presidents from across the aisle have benefited from past “rally ’round the flag” bumps.

President George W. Bush’s approval soared 35-percentage points after 9/11, the largest and eventually the longest-sustained bump on record. His father, President George H.W. Bush, experienced first-hand how the sugar high of a rally round the flag effect can fall off quickly as an 18-point post-Gulf War bump gave way to a bruising election defeat just months later. Americans even rallied around President John F. Kennedy after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion debacle.  

Political scientist John Mueller pioneered the study of the “rally ’round the flag” effect in the 1970s. Mueller observed that such a bump must feature three characteristics: it’s international, involves the United States, “particularly the president directly,” and must be “specific, dramatic, and sharply focused.” 

But in recent years, the crisis-related boosts have faded even more quickly and occurred far less often. President Donald Trump experienced that as other world leaders saw their approval ratings rise in the early months of the pandemic. One reason for the change, experts say, is that intense distrust between Democrats and Republicans has spawned an era of negative partisanship where presidents receive little crossover support. 

“In a hyperpartisan period that we find ourselves increasingly in, there’s less on the table,” Miringoff said. “It’s about mobilizing your base, it’s not about persuading people.”

Trump is a perfect study of such an outcome. He reaped part of the benefits of that intense loyalty as Republican voters largely stuck by him through two impeachments, a pandemic, and the churn of near-constant controversy.

“You think about the Trump presidency and all the controversies that he was involved in and people kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and for his approval to decline and it didn’t really bottom out,” Jeff Jones, senior editor at analytics firm Gallup, told Insider. “Republicans never really abandoned him regardless of what he did.”

It’s still the economy

Kevin McCarthy stands in front of an inflation chartHouse Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy talks to reporters about inflation during a March 18 news conference.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The economy and consumer sentiment continue to keep Biden’s approval numbers bogged down. Republicans have also made clear that they will make inflation — a concern that also speaks even more to their base — a major issue leading into the midterm elections in November.

“There’s no doubt … when it comes to the economy versus Ukraine, in terms of what’s on people’s minds, the economy is more paramount,” Miringoff said. “He’s getting very little in terms of what he’s been handling probably the best.”

Despite many of the fundamentals showing a strong economic recovery from the depths of the pandemic, consumer confidence is at its lowest point in 11 years and inflation is at its highest in 40 years.

While the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is when the Biden honeymoon period ended, his steady decline starting in the summer of 2021 has largely been correlated with how voters feel about the economy as well as his administration’s pandemic response. 

Independent voters have been a leading indicator on this front, with their approval of Biden’s job performance generally keeping in line with their assessment of the economy and the pandemic. While the economy and the pandemic have been intertwined from the outset in March 2020, inflation has become Biden’s biggest problem.

Morning Consult, a Washington-based research firm, has tracked Biden’s performance among independents and his handling of the economy. His problem with independents began to emerge in August 2021, when 51% of people polled disapproved of how he was handling the economy.

In the latest Morning Consult/Politico poll from March, Biden’s approval rating among those who said the economy is their number one issue sat at just 37%. Only 31% of independent voters with no partisan lean said they either strongly or somewhat approve of the job Biden is doing as president.

With inflation at its highest point in four decades, former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are comparable examples of how the issue can put a significant dent in a president’s approval ratings and limit their tenure to just one term.

The lack of rally moments could foretell a very different presidency in the future. In an era of cord-cutting, news silos, and intense partisanship Biden and his successors are likely to have even fewer opportunities to rally the broader American public behind them.

It also means an underwater president like Biden will struggle even more to survive the historical current of midterm elections that in recent years have become searing referendums on the party holding power in Washington.

“Absent a rally event, and I’m not sure rally events are really that possible anymore, I wouldn’t expect his approval to change between now and November,” Jones said.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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