Feb 4, 2022

How can Biden improve his approval rating?

How can Biden improve his approval rating?
Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The president is starts 2022 underwater in the polls.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.” Today's newsletter is a special Friday edition.

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Today's read: 6 minutes.

Last week, a Tangle reader wrote in with an interesting proposition. He suggested that in my next reader survey, I propose this hypothetical:

"If you were hired by the Biden Administration to quickly get his approval rating up to 50%, what 3 things would you recommend he do?"

Before we address this question, I think it's important to add context for why it is so important.

Currently, President Biden is underwater. An average of polls across the industry puts his approval rating at 41.7% and his disapproval rating at 52.6%. That is just barely better than where former President Trump was at this point in his presidency, and a full seven percentage points below where former President Obama was. Black voters' approval of Biden continues to fall, as does support from independents, two of the critical groups that helped get him elected. Even among Democrats, Biden's approval rating is down from 95% to 76%, according to Pew, and more Americans now identify as Republicans than Democrats (when Biden took office, the opposite was true).

I thought this question was an excellent thought exercise, and so I began ruminating on it. I also posed the question on Twitter, and spent a few days reading through and considering some of the responses.

Below, I've picked my three, along with some rationale for each of them.

On the whole, I'd like to make three caveats about this list: First, I am taking this thought exercise to its logical end. I'm acting as if I were hired by President Biden as an advisor to improve his approval rating, and telling him what I think he should do. In other words, I’m trying to think like a political hack. Therefore, I'm thinking about things he can actually do or actually sell. Some of the replies I got to my tweet, like "just pass Build Back Better" or "resign" are ineligible answers in my eyes because he can't and/or he won't. "End inflation" is a great idea, but if Biden could have, he would have.

Second, my endorsement of this plan as a way to improve his approval ratings is not an endorsement of the policies. It's about the ideas I think are political winners, based on my reading of the mood of the country and the polls.

And, finally, for the purposes of this exercise, my general framework is that Biden needs to win back the Democrats who supported him a year ago and win over some of the independents he's lost since inauguration. While "building a border wall" or "ending all mask mandates" might win over some conservative support, I think most Republicans would still ultimately disapprove of his presidency. Therefore, after much consideration, my view (with my "political hack" hat on) is that Biden is best off pursuing winners on the left that also draw some independent and Republican support.

Legalize cannabis.

I've written about my concerns around cannabis legalization, but politically, it's a winner. 91% of Americans say it should be legal for either medical or recreational use, and 60% say it should be legal for both. More importantly, 95% of Democrats say either medical or recreational cannabis should be legal, and 47% of Republicans or lean-Republicans think cannabis should be legal for medical and recreational use.