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In the past more moderate leaders get very high approvals. Joe Biden ran as a moderate and seems to be governing like one. Even today you have this effect happen at the local level. Charlie Baker the governor of Massachusetts has higher approval with Democrats even though he ran as a Republican (!).

Yet Biden is a highly polarizing figure despite some of his efforts not to be. Obama for example had a far more volatile approval, but he was the last president to have such an elastic approval rating. It is approve by 9 on 538, which past approval vs election correlations show is very similar to Biden's margin in the popular vote.

Why is Biden's approval so polarized while certain people are able to escape polarization at least partly, even at the federal level?

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    Interestingly, Biden's average approval rating is higher than 9 of the last 10 presidents, although his peak approval rating is lower than 9 of the last 10 presidents. That doesn't speak to polarization directly, but overall, Biden does have good approval numbers so far. There seem to be two different questions here in the title and body, one asking about overall popularity, and the other asking about polarization. Jul 14 at 14:59
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    By "polarizing" you mean "low approval amongst members of the opposing party", right?
    – Dan Scally
    Jul 14 at 15:02
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    I don't think an overall, systematic, analysis can be carried out. Lots of opinions, maybe. But really you are working with a sample base of 1 (the US), a shifting political landscape (Rep. strategy to demonize the opposition and get the base out) and pretty big challenges/changes in the country - climate change policy and racial relations - that are mostly split down the middle. Of those 2 climate change is brand new. Basically, until a major event happens - like a war - Biden's pop. is going to track his election %s, ppl who voted Trump, despite his known flaws will not change without it Jul 14 at 15:20
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    I think you are wrong about Biden's efforts not to be polarizing, because he has done, or proposed, some quite polarizing things.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 14 at 15:55
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    I've voted to close this as risking opinion-based answers, but in doing so, I am wondering if we kept similar open-ended why is Trump unpopular questions? (if we did I'll retract my VTC, if possible). I do believe a question asking why a particular policy of Biden/Trump was un/popular could be on-topic. Or a question asking why Biden/Trump was un/popular to a specific voter slice. Jul 14 at 18:53
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This is my opinion.

Biden may have run as a moderate, which helped him get elected, but he's been governing more progressively. His American Jobs Plan is full of progressive proposals, although not as aggressive as the Green New Deal (I know this isn't a specific proposal, just a framework, but it implies very aggressive policies).

There's also still the lingering effects of Trumpism. Many Republicans believe the "Big Lie" that the election was stolen, so they don't consider him the legitimate President. Many of them won't give Biden a favorable rating no matter what he does.

Biden quickly reversed many of Trump's environmental, diversity, and immigration policies. I'm sure this has rubbed many Trump supporters the wrong way, and reduced his favorability rating.

I'm a Massachusetts resident, and the fact that Gov. Baker is a Republican is hardly noticeable. Our population and legislature are overwhelmingly Democratic, so Baker has little ability to push the GOP agenda here. I think most of his vetoes get overridden (we allow line item vetoes in the budget, some of these are effective). So he doesn't do much that will impact his popularity among Democrats.

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Different times. It used to be that while the two parties differed on how to get things done, they generally had the same goals. The Democrats and Republicans might argue fiercely on the best way to provide public education for example, but they both voted for things they thought would make education better. Both parties recognized that in order to legislate, both sides would have to negotiate and compromise. Sometimes your side did much better than the other one, sometimes not.

Then 2006 happened.

In 2006 the Democrats took control of the U.S. Congress for the first time since 1994. This meant that a lot of the Republicans that were used to compromising were kicked out of office. In 2009 after the Democrats also took control of the Executive branch, the Tea Party, a conservative political movement within the Republican party, rose with the intention of getting the party back in power with candidates that were further right than what had been there before. They were successful in 2010 following the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the new, younger Congresspeople were less willing to negotiate or compromise on anything. Their main method of legislating was to automatically oppose whatever President Obama supported. The Tea Party worked hard to push the Republican Party away from moderation and spent a lot of time and money to replace established politicians with newer, more conservative people.

This eventually led to the 2016 election, where even if Donald Trump had lost the primary election, the winner would still have been a hard right executive unwilling to meet Democrat priorities. This had the effect of seeing formerly moderate liberals get rebuffed over and over when it came to trying to meet in the middle and pass truly bipartisan bills. So what happened to the Republican party happened to the Democrats. More hard left individuals were elected and their supporters no longer want moderate stances or compromise because they don't see reciprocity from the Republicans.

Joe Biden is a product from an older, bygone era. He was necessary to win the general election away from Trump, but within his own party he isn't liberal enough to make the growing numbers of more extreme politicians and constituents happy.

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    This is a great explanation of how we got here, but not of why Biden isn't more popular. Even if he isn't liberal enough for his own party, he still gets 90+% approval from Democrats, so lack of party support isn't an answer.
    – Bobson
    Jul 14 at 15:48
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    this is also a great explanation that conveniently ignores Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America , to start the polarization clock in 2006 under Dems. Plus, popularity with the extremes doesnt matter as much as claimed, outside of primaries. Who can disgruntled Progressives turn to? - Reps? what about disgruntled Tea Partiers? - Dems? Jul 14 at 15:59
  • Actually I think this is probably pretty close to right, even if the odd detail isn't exactly correct.
    – Dan Scally
    Jul 14 at 16:13
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica it doesn't ignore it. 2006 didn't start the polarization of parties, but it was the start of the removal of the old guard of Republicans that were willing to accept negotiation as a way of doing business. Popularity does matter. The answer to who disgruntled Progressives turn to is no one, which is one of the reasons why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.
    – RWW
    Jul 14 at 17:03
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica "Who can disgruntled Progressives...[Tea Partiers] turn to?" Nobody, they just won't vote. We saw this in 2016, many Bernie supporters just stayed home.
    – Ryan_L
    Jul 14 at 19:34

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