President Biden is enjoying what looks like an enduring bump in approval polls, a shift that is linked to a number of factors that could help Democrats in the midterm elections.
Here’s what’s behind it:
Biden and his party’s ultra-narrow congressional majorities have notched a series of legislative successes over the past 18 months. First, there was the American Rescue Plan that pumped nearly $2 trillion into the economy to fight the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, there was the massive infrastructure bill last fall.
But it was the Inflation Reduction Act that Biden signed last month that has appeared to do the most for the president’s recent political comeback.
The law includes some of Biden and his party’s biggest policy priorities. It marks the United States’s largest-ever investment in the fight against climate change and raises taxes on corporations and wealthy investors. It also takes steps to reduce health care costs by extending federal health-insurance subsidies and allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for seniors on Medicare.
Of course, the law has been targeted relentlessly by Republicans, who claim that it will raise taxes on Americans and worsen already-high inflation. Still, Democrats see the law as a lifeline heading into the midterms — one that shows the party’s voters that Democrats can deliver on their campaign promises.
“Things are a lot different today,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). “You need to look at the fact that, not only is the president’s legislative agenda very popular, but much of it has been delivered.”
Gas prices rose dramatically throughout 2021 and the first half of 2022, putting a strain on Americans’ pocketbooks and, consequently, on Biden’s approval numbers. The cost of fuel peaked in mid-June at more than $5 per gallon, according to AAA.
But drivers are breathing a little easier nowadays. As of Monday, the national average for a gallon of gasoline sits at just shy of $3.68 — down from about $3.72 a week ago and nearly $3.92 a month ago.
That’s still higher than it was at this time last year — about $0.48 cents higher. Still, it’s trending in the right direction, helping Biden’s approval rating claw its way back from the depths it reached over the summer.
Gas prices usually rise and fall with the cost of oil, meaning the president can only do so much to influence those prices. At the same time, U.S. oil production hasn’t fully hit pre-pandemic levels.
In March, Biden announced a plan to release 1 million barrels per day over six months from the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to bring down rising gas prices. And while there may be longer-term questions about what will happen when those releases end, the easing fuel prices have taken some political pressure off of Biden for now.
Former President Trump never really disappeared from the public eye; since leaving the White House last year, he’s issued endorsement after endorsement in GOP primary contests, held rallies for his preferred candidates and continued to publicly push his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
But he’s reemerged as a headline-grabbing figure in recent months, especially as investigations into a wide range of alleged wrongdoing have ramped up.
The most high-profile probe of the former president’s conduct broke out into the open last month when the FBI searched his private Palm Beach, Fla., residence as part of an investigation into his handling of classified documents. But he’s also facing legal jeopardy in Georgia, where a special grand jury is investigating whether Trump and his allies sought to overturn his 2020 election defeat in the state.
Biden, meanwhile, has stepped up his criticism of Trump once again, casting him and his political movement as a threat to American democracy. An NBC News poll released on Sunday found Trump’s favorability rating sinking to one of the lowest points of his post-presidency.
While midterm elections tend to focus more on the current president and his party, Trump has proven to be an effective foil for Democrats in the past, and his recent tendency to grab headlines has helped reignite the energy that juiced support for Biden in 2020.
“Forget that he’s not the president anymore,” one Republican strategist said. “I think a lot of people are being reminded of Trump now, and it makes Biden look better in comparison.”
Biden and his party have also seen a boost in the polls amid an effort to rally Americans against Republican efforts to curb abortion rights following the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The political impact of the decision has already been made clear: Kansas voters quashed a proposed amendment that would have stripped abortion protections from the state constitution, Democrats overperformed in a handful of hotly contested special elections, and polling shows the issue of reproductive rights taking on heightened importance in the midterm elections.
Poll after poll has made clear the support for abortion rights. A New York Times-Siena College Poll survey last week found that 62 percent of registered voters believe that abortion should remain legal, at least in most circumstances.
And it’s not just Democratic voters. Sixty-five percent of independents said that abortion should remain legal in most cases.
Consequently, Biden has ridden the same wave as other Democrats in the post-Roe political environment. In July, he signed an executive order that seeks to protect access to abortion medication and emergency contraception. He has also vowed to veto any legislative attempt to ban abortions nationwide.