President Biden, who campaigned to do a better job managing the pandemic than former president Donald Trump, has lost support among independents, women, and fellow Democrats for his handling of the coronavirus, according to a U.S. study by the Covid States Project, a collaborative effort by researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers found.
Biden’s pandemic approval rating, which had been as high as 59 percent in April, fell 10 points to 49 percent in September. While higher than Trump’s 34 percent approval one year ago, Biden’s current pandemic rating is not that far off from his overall approval figure of 45 percent, also a decline, according to the study released Friday.
“People may be disappointed in how things have gone in the second half of the summer and early fall,” says David Lazer, university distinguished professor of political science and computer sciences at Northeastern, and one of the researchers who conducted the study.
The Delta variant took hold over that time period, resulting in a renewed wave of hospitalizations and deaths. During the 2020 summer surge, when vaccines had not yet been authorized for widespread distribution, L.A. County, for example, reported about 2,800 new coronavirus cases a day, and the number of people hospitalized there for COVID-19 peaked at around 2,200.
This summer, however, the peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations was notably lower in L.A. County and elsewhere around the country. Optimism about the downward trend led Biden to declare a “summer of freedom.”
“If they knew that Delta was coming, they probably would have framed their messaging differently,” Lazer says.
The latest Northeastern-led study involved 21,000 people across the country, and concluded in late September, after a number of key developments.
Biden ordered federal employees and government contractors to be vaccinated, and required businesses with at least 100 employees to require vaccination or weekly testing. The FDA also authorized booster shots for the elderly and those at high risk.
Since then, an erosion in support for Biden’s pandemic approval rating cut across a swath of respondents. Support dropped 5 percentage points among Democrats, 6 percentage points among women, and 9 percentage points among people who said they were vaccinated.
There was an identical 7-point drop each among Black, white, and Hispanic respondents.
“Those who are supportive of Biden are probably thinking ‘Oh, this is a bit disappointing where we are,’” with the pandemic, Lazer says.
The COVID-19 mood has soured for the nation’s governors too, the study found.
On average, 45 percent of respondents approved of their governor’s handling of the pandemic, down seven points from June, and the lowest approval of governors since the start of the pandemic.
States with notable approval declines are Virginia, Oklahoma, Nevada, Idaho, Alaska, Mississippi, Ohio, Arkansas, and Wisconsin. All of those governors experienced double-digit declines in approval since June. There were negligible increases in approval in just four states.
Pandemic pessimism “isn’t happening to Biden in isolation,” Lazer points out. “Both Biden and governors are suffering for it.”
Indeed, even among a highly polarized electorate, some voters tend to focus on governors’ pandemic performance, regardless of politics, as borne out by the study.
It found that there are five Republican governors who stand out for having very high approval among Democrats―in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, and Ohio.
Throughout 2021, those five governors have had higher average approval among Democratic respondents than among their Republican counterparts. In September, this partisan approval gap stands at 8 points, down from 18 points in June. Nearly all of this narrowing of the partisan gap is attributable to declines in approval of these five Republican governors among their fellow Republican partisans, the study noted.
With the congressional midterm elections roughly a year out, Lazer says it is likely that Democrats will lose seats in Congress, but that would have likely happened anyway despite Biden’s approval numbers since the president’s party traditionally loses seats.
And, Lazer adds, it is not surprising that there has been a decay in support for Biden since that it also the usual pattern for presidents once they take office.
“This is roughly where I would expect him to be, maybe even a little bit lower,” he says. “But that’s all consistent with losing seats in Congress.”
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