Why Biden’s message is failing

Joe Biden

This Week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 4

  • Voters are not buying Democrats’ “big lie” narrative
  • Eric Greitens leads with a minority in Missouri
  • Maggie Hassan’s poll numbers remain atrocious


One year into Joe Biden’s presidency, Republicans continue to look like the favorites for a takeover of the U.S. House. 

Although the redistricting picture is shaping slightly more in Democrats’ favor than the post-2010 picture did, Republicans still look like strong favorites to retake the House of Representatives in November. In particular, they are shaping up to gain seats in Texas, North Carolina, and Arizona, although they will probably lose seats in California, Illinois and Michigan, among others. The jury is out in Ohio, where the courts have put Republicans’ congressional map on ice.

Still, all the signs are there for a Red wave. Ominously, 28 House Democrats have already announced they are quitting. This includes several Democrats who represent vulnerable districts, such as Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona, Ron Kind in Wisconsin, and Filemon Vela in increasingly Republican South Texas. Meanwhile, a federal investigation could upend Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats, whose district could become competitive in coming years if not this year.

As incumbents, these politicians might have been in a slightly better position to defend their seats, but now those seats are ripe for the taking in open-seat races.

Overall, Joe Biden’s approval rating is in the toilet, underwater by 15 points in the RealClearPolitics average — one year into his presidency, he now finds himself with a rating comparable to that of Donald Trump at the same point. Democrats trail (although the numbers vary widely from poll to poll) in the generic ballot average. In key states with important House races, Biden’s numbers are even more appalling — for example, in November, he was at 34% in North Carolina, one of the states where redistricting is giving Republicans multiple pickup opportunities.

The history of midterm elections is not on Democrats’ side, and neither are the main issues of the day. Biden’s ratings overall are persistently in the 30s or low 40s. Meanwhile, 54% believe the economy is getting worse. Although unemployment is not extraordinarily high, inflation is clearly souring the voters’ mood. The perception is that the economy is awful. And it is more than just a perception. 

In this context, Democrats have very little to work with. They are preemptively embracing a narrative that Republicans are trying to suppress the vote — Joe Biden’s recent Atlanta speech tried to paint them as Bull Connor mixed with Jefferson Davis — but how likely is this to work when even a partisan as strident as Sen. Dick Durbin isn’t even buying it? A Quinnipiac poll this month showed that the two parties are almost tied on the question of which one will “protect the right to vote.” So Democrats can always defame, but they cannot ride to victory on the back of accusations that voters just don’t believe. Incredibly, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe that the nation’s democracy is “in danger of collapse,” even though this has become the Democrats’ go-to message. Even the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and the “big lie” — the bloody shirt Democrats keep waving about — is not a slam-dunk issue for them. The breakdown between those who believe it was an attack on democracy and those who believe it’s overblown is only 50%-44%. 

To make matters worse, Biden’s legislative agenda is also dead. Unlike Trump, who signed tax reform at the end of his first year in office, Biden won’t even have a major legislative accomplishment under his belt going into the midterm. 

Of course, Republicans could fail due to poor candidate recruitment, poor fundraising, or any number of other reasons. But they have the wind at their backs this year. Anything short of a takeover of both houses of Congress will be short of expectations.

Governor 2022

Iowa: How far has Iowa come since it was a swing state? Well, the Des Moines Register has just picked up on the fact that Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds doesn’t even have a serious Democratic opponent. The only Democrat in the race, businesswoman Deidre DeJear, has a nearly broke campaign, with only $8,547 in the bank. Reynolds just raised $3.8 million, which is a state record for a governor’s race, and has a total of $4.8 million cash on hand. Nobody else is running, so it looks like Democrats aren’t bothering with this one.  

Senate 2022

Missouri: As in 2012, Republicans risk nominating a problem candidate with a minority of the vote. Former Gov. Eric Greitens leads the pack currently with just 27%. He was forced out of office amid a sordid sex scandal that involved allegations of blackmail and revenge porn. 

But he has a leg up because, in an extremely crowded field, nobody else has the name recognition he does. 

The good news for Republicans is that the Democrats have been unable to recruit any formidable candidate. The bad news is that even an obscure former local official can win an election under the right conditions and against a candidate with bad enough flaws.

Also in the running for the Republicans are Attorney General Eric Schmitt and a few members of the state’s U.S. House delegation. 

New Hampshire: Although she leads all three of her low-profile challengers in a new poll, Sen. Maggie Hassan has to be considered the underdog in her race for re-election simply because her own numbers are so low. She does no better than 43% against any of her relatively obscure potential opponents. As an incumbent senator and former governor, she has full name recognition (only 4% of voters in the survey had no opinion of her job performance), whereas her potential Republican opponents are little-known and will have ample opportunity to raise their profiles and increase their support during the campaign.

The old rule of thumb, that undecideds break for the challenger, is not and has never been absolute. But it still serves as a useful reminder. Incumbents polling below 45% are in extraordinary peril. Even worse, the same poll shows Joe Biden with a 58% disapproval rating. As in every other state with a hot race this year, Biden will be an anchor tied around the Democratic candidate’s neck.

Hassan herself has a 51% disapproval. Her Senate colleague Jeanne Shaheen is slightly underwater as are both of the state’s Democratic House members. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, on the other hand, has majority job approval. His decision not to run against Hassan might have eased the pressure a bit, but she is by no means out of the woods.

This year’s election could prove a real bloodbath for Granite State Democrats, up and down the ballot.