Democratic strategists offer suggestions on how the president can right the ship and pump up his poll numbers
President Biden announces a ban on Russian oil imports, toughening the toll on Russia’s economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Answer: Both of President Biden’s two most immediate predecessors in the White House suffered from negative poll numbers on the eve of their first midterm elections in office and both saw their party lose control of the House of Representatives.
In November 2010, Obama’s approval rating was underwater by 4 points as the Republicans rode a powerful Tea Party fueled red wave to flip the House with a massive 63-seat net gain, the largest shift of seats in more than 60 years.
Fast-forward eight years and Trump’s approval rating was underwater by nearly 10 points on the eve of the 2018 midterms, when the Democrats stormed back to reclaim the House majority thanks to a 41-seat pickup.
Fast-forward again four years to present day and Biden finds himself in similar negative territory.
The president stands at 45% approval and 54% disapproval in the latest Fox News national poll, and average all the most recent surveys gauging Biden’s standing that was compiled by Real Clear Politics puts him at 41%-53%.
Midterm elections are often a referendum on the president and his record in office, and the presidential approval rating has long been a key barometer ahead of midterm contests. And that spells trouble for Democrats, who are trying to defend their razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate in November’s elections.
With just over seven months to go until Americans vote, Fox News reached out to some Democratic strategists and consultants for their advice on how the president can pump up his numbers to help his party at the ballot box.
Longtime Democratic consultant Bill Burton pinpointed a messaging problem for the president, telling Fox News that “President Biden has been a transformative leader at a crucial time for our country and almost no Americans know it.”
“Getting the word out there about what the president did to lift up the economy and get our country out of the depths of the coronavirus pandemic is really important,” Burton, a veteran of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and the Obama White House, emphasized.
Democratic strategist Chris Moyer told Fox News that Biden “should get out to places with the most important races and sell, sell, sell.”
The number of Americans filing jobless claims plunged last week to their lowest levels in more than half a century, and wages are soaring. But the extremely positive economic metrics are being vastly overshadowed by skyrocketing inflation, including historically high gas prices.
Moyer, a veteran of numerous Democratic presidential and statewide campaigns, emphasized that “the president should do everything he can to bring gas prices down, which could include a federal gas tax holiday.”
Longtime Democratic consultant Jesse Ferguson offered that “there’s clear evidence that the economy’s getting back up off the mat and Democrats have to be relentless in telling that story. When people can get jobs if they want and get paid more if they work, it’s clear we can tell the story of an economy that’s not yet fixed, but no longer floundering.”
“As much as people feel very real anxiety, they have to see that Democrats are stabilizing things while Republicans would make the worst fears of this anxiety come true,” Ferguson, who served multiple tours of duty at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, emphasized. “Democrats can’t promise lullabies, but just show that people can get a good night’s sleep again while Republicans would bring all their nightmares to life.”
Biden’s approval rating hovered in the low to mid 50s during his first six months in the White House. But the president’s numbers started sagging in August in the wake of Biden’s much criticized handling of the turbulent U.S. exit from Afghanistan and following a surge in COVID-19 cases last summer among mainly unvaccinated people due to the Delta variant.
The plunge in the president’s approval, which continued last autumn and into the winter, was also heavily fueled by the jump in consumer prices and to a lesser degree the surge over the past year of migrants trying to cross into the U.S. along the southern border with Mexico.
There’s continued cause for concern once you get past the top lines in the surveys. Biden’s approval on most major issues – including the economy – are also well underwater, and he’s seen deterioration with key voting blocs that helped to put him in the White House in the 2020 election.
“Who knows what the world looks like come the fall, but we should expect the economy and getting inflation under control will still be top of mind for voters,” Lucas Meyer, a New Hampshire based Democratic consultant and activist, noted.
Meyer suggested spotlighting a new proposal by the president that was unveiled Monday in the administration’s 2023 budget blueprint to tax America’s billionaires, saying “it can help the Democrats get on the offensive to address both issues.”
“This would only apply to a small fraction of people whose household wealth exceeds $100 million, and most of the revenue would come from Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg. This is entirely a commonsense and very popular proposal that simply asks the super-wealthy – whose wealth has ballooned during the pandemic mind you – to pay a tax rate closer to what firefighters, teachers, nurses, and small business owners pay,” Meyer noted.
California based progressive consultant Michael Cesaro pointed to Biden’s March 1 State of the Union Address – which was dominated by Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine – and worried that “Democrats are in trouble of the State of the Union is a prelude to what we as Democrats are going to focus on.”
Cesaro, a veteran of the 2008 Obama campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential run, and now-Transportation Secy. Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 White House bid, suggested that the president “kick off the election season by bringing non legacy organizations together that focus on criminal justice, voter rights, education, health care and reproductive justice. And ask them what he can do for them.”
And he urged Biden to “stop pandering to inside the beltway organizations who have little influence in electoral politics and for the love of god, back slowly away from the White male rural only strategy or else we are going to lose in 2022 and 2024.”
But Cesaro also emphasized that the president can’t fumble the ball overseas.”
Longtime Iowa based Democratic and communications consultant Jeff Link also pointed to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s deadly attack on Ukraine, urging that Biden “keep the allied forces strong against Putin.”
Link, a veteran of numerous presidential and statewide campaigns, also urged the president to “get infrastructure money out the door quickly.”
Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.