Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden’s low approval ratings

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including how domestic issues like inflation, high-profile mass shootings and the overturning of Roe v. Wade is dragging down President Biden's approval ratings, according to a new poll.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just months before the midterm elections, a handful of domestic issues are driving the political agenda, rising inflation, a series of high-profile shootings, and the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

    It's all dragging down President Biden's approval ratings. In The New York Times/Siena College poll, 60 percent of Americans say they disapprove of the job the president's doing. That includes a quarter of his own party, and the concerning number for Democrats running this year, more than two-thirds of independent voters say they disapprove of the president's job performance.

    To discuss the political stakes at the moment, I'm joined now by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Welcome to you both on this Monday, Politics Monday.

    So, Amy, what everybody wants to know is, why is this happening? Why is President Biden doing so poorly in the polls a year-and-a-half into his term?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    A year-and-a-half in.

    And I also want to put this into context, Judy. I mean, this is one poll. But if you look at an average of all the polls, the president's overall approval rating now at 38 percent. It is the lowest approval rating we have seen at a president at this point in his term going all the way back to Eisenhower.

    So this is quite — for Democrats, not a very good milestone, for the president, not a great milestone. Why does he get there? You listed all of those reasons in your opener, the economy, the mass shootings. COVID, now we have a sudden resurgence of a new variant. It feels as if, one, things are sort of out of control, and, two, the president not really feeling — people not feeling like he has his hand firmly on the steering wheel.

    He was elected in part by saying, I'm going to help us get away from or at least navigate us through the chaos. Now it feels like the chaos is still controlling us as a country, and the president feels to many people like he's a step behind.

    For Democrats, the frustration is about a president they don't feel is taking it to Republicans hard enough. I talk to a lot of Democrats who say, we want to see the president fight harder against Republicans like Mitch McConnell, not let him drive the agenda.

    And for independent voters, I do think it comes to this sense of they just feel overwhelmed by the economy and how much these day-to-day increases in everything from groceries to rent to gas has impacted their lives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tam, you have been watching his White House very closely. What else do you see going on here?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    The American public is in a very sour mood.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And we have talked about this before, but inflation is probably the one thing that maybe across the political spectrum people can agree is something that is a real concern. Every time you go fill up your tank, the price of gas is very high, though it has been coming down in recent days.

    But, in addition to that, there are reasons that people on the left feel like the country is going in the wrong direction and they're incredibly frustrated, whether it be the mass shootings and feeling like the president held a celebration today for gun safety legislation that a lot of people felt wasn't worthy of celebration, that it was an incremental step at a time when people want radical change.

    On abortion rights, the same thing, that there's this level of frustration that the president just can't do more. And so the people on the left, who — Democrats, 25 percent of Democrats don't approve of the president's performance. That really takes a hit into your numbers when your own party isn't fully behind you.

    And the reason that they have that reticence is, as Amy says, they want more. And also, I think that the White House would argue that the challenge he faces right now is, there is no alternative. It's not Joe Biden vs. someone else. It's just, how do you feel about the president? How do you feel about the country?

    Well, not great.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, when Democrats are asking me — to dig a little further, I mean, when Democrats are asked in this poll whether Joe Biden should run again, President Biden should run again, Amy, only 26 percent — this is Democrats — say, yes, he should.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right. Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sixty-nine percent say somebody else.

    And when they are asked why, Democrats answer — I'm reading here — 33 percent cite his age, 32 percent cite his job performance, 12 percent say they just would prefer somebody else, and 10 percent say he's not progressive enough.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    Now, if you are in the Biden White House, you would say, look, it's very early. People are understandably frustrated about where things stand today. We have a long way to go before we get to 2024. And that is fair.

    But the fact that we haven't even had a midterm election yet, we don't even have the results of the midterm election yet, and a quarter of Democrats saying they would support the president is a pretty bleak number.

    We have been seeing this number, though, for quite some time, maybe not this high.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    But since the beginning of the year, about 50 percent of Democrats in polls have been saying they'd like somebody else new. When you break it down for who — what they want to see, that's where we get into the next question, right?

    Well, if it's not Biden, then who?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    And that's where even — even people who follow politics for a living or are in politics for a living say, I don't know. Who would that be? And how would that happen?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    And I want to — we will show everybody what the matchup is when you match him head to head against former President Trump.

    But, Tam, these are tough numbers from his own party.

  • Tamara Keith:

    So when I saw these numbers, I went and looked up this quote from March of 2020 that sticks with me, and I think potentially might explain some of this.

    He said in March of 2020 — this is this is President Biden — "Look, I see myself as a bridge, not as anything else. There's an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country."

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    He, in a way, pitched himself as a transitional leader.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And now he's saying, I'm running for reelection in 2024.

    Well, all of these voters in this poll are saying, wait, I thought you said you were a transitional leader, and we're moving on to the next thing. And I think that, because he presented himself in that way, that's why these numbers are this way so early.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, I mean, just — I think we just actually showed these numbers to the viewers, Amy.

    But when these voters are asked about a matchup, this is all voters, a matchup between Biden and Trump, it's 44 to 41. Biden has a little bit of an edge. It's within the margin of error. But among independents, which, of course, everybody watches very closely — and you talk about the independence a lot — former President Trump slight edge, 39 to 37, two points. It's within the margin of error.

    But it's a warning sign.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    Well, there are two ways to look at this. One is to say, oh — if you are in the Biden White House, you say, see, what we told you is actually true, that we are the only candidate that could beat Donald Trump.

    But you also say yes, but three points, if we assume that's where things sit, that's basically where we were in 2020. And even though he won the popular vote by that margin, he only won the Electoral College by 40,000 votes. So we also don't have yet a matchup between any other Democrat.

    What it feels like is, those numbers are sort of locked in amber. People who voted for Biden are still going to vote for Biden, people who voted for Trump still going to vote for Trump, with the section of people out there who are saying, I don't even want to have to make that choice right now.

    My guess is, we're not going to see either one of those candidates on the ballot in 2024, that what voters have been telling us from the very beginning of this year is, they would like to see some new faces on the ballot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In any event, it's a warning sign for the White House right now.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, well, and not one that they really want to be asked about.

    Also, though, it is a long way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, by the way, they're saying he is running again.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, absolutely.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. Oh, they are saying it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Repeatedly, they're saying it and pushing back and making sure that friends of Biden talk to the reporters who are working on these stories. They want to make it clear that he is running.

    If he were to say right now that he isn't running, then all of the oxygen would go out of the room.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Any effort to get his agenda through would hit ice, and you would end up with all of the attention focused on the intrigue and drama.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lame duck, which they don't want.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They do not want that.

  • Amy Walter:

    Absolutely.

  • Tamara Keith:

    No.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Tamara Keith. Amy Walter, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

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