The news about President Biden's approval ratings is definitely not good. NBC News says that it points to a shellacking for Democrats in the 2022 midterms. Analysts at FiveThirtyEight document that one year in, Biden has the second lowest approval rating of any president.
Pundits who attempt to explain what's happening tend to point to (1) the persistence of the Covid pandemic, (2) inflation, (3) the failure to pass two pieces of major legislation. Those might all be factors, regardless of whether it is Biden who should be held accountable.
Gallup recently released their average Biden approval rating for his first year in office - which stands at 48.9%. Similar to what the analysts at FiveThirtyEight noted, that is the second lowest of any modern president. Only Trump did worse, and it was a lot worse, averaging 38% his first year.
But along with that piece of data, Gallup released some other numbers that must be included when analyzing why Biden's approval numbers are so low compared to previous presidents. They included the partisan divide on presidential approval. This table shows the divide from the largest to the smallest.
But it's even more helpful to present the information historically.
Biden 83% party gap
During the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the partisan gap in presidential approval rating hovered around 30%. Then in the 80s and 90s in jumped to around 50%. Since then, we've gone from 65% for Obama to 75% for Trump and now 83% for Biden.
To emphasize how dramatically things have changed, take a look at the fact that Eisenhower got a 56% approval rating during his first year from Democrats and Kennedy got 58% from Republicans. By the time we get to 2021, Biden got an 8% approval rating from Republicans during his first year in office. As polarized as things felt during Obama's presidency, even he got 23% approval from Republicans during his first year. Any pundit commenting on Biden's low approval rating must take this partisan gap into account.
Given the fact that so many Republicans live in a right wing news bubble where Biden is not only painted as a complete failure, but a threat to the country, it is unlikely that his 8% approval number will change much over the next three years. So I don't expect the 83% partisan gap to narrow - no matter what happens. Because of that, it is very likely that Biden will continue to have historically low approval ratings.
The place where Democrats can make some gains is with some of the voters who self-identify as independents. According to Gallup, Biden's approval rating with that group is only 33%. But to make some headway, we have to clear up some of the misinformation and confusion about who those voter are.
According to Pew Research, 38% of voters identify as politically independent. But in digging a little deeper, 13% lean toward the Republican Party and 17% lean toward the Democratic Party. Those "leaners" aren't very independent in that they are often "much closer to partisans in their views than they are to independents who lean to the other party." That leaves approximately 7% of voters who are truly independent.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about that 7% is that they are less politically engaged than partisans - including the fact that they are less likely to vote.