President Joe Biden’s hot streak is starting to show up in the polls. Many thought the upcoming mid-term elections would be catastrophic for the Democrats, but Biden’s string of recent successes has given new life to the president and his party. There is still a risk that the Democrats will lose control of Congress, but Biden’s job approval rating has reached its highest level in a year, according to a Gallup poll released on August 25.
Biden’s approval ratings began sinking during the chaotic withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan just over a year ago. Since then, high gasoline and food prices, the highest inflation rate in 40 years, his stalled legislative agenda, and short-term crises like the infant formula shortage, drove his approval rating to its nadir in July, when only 38% of Americans approved of Biden’s performance. It was also the lowest approval rating for a president at that point in his term in recent decades.
In just one month, however, Biden’s job approval has jumped to 44%. His rating among independent voters (not registered as Republican or Democrat) rose from 31% to 40% in a single month. Among Democrats, his rating rose from 78% to 81%. But he’s still at rock bottom (4%) with Republican voters.
In early August, US forces targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri in a precision drone attack that killed the Al Qaeda leader in his Kabul (Afghanistan) home. That same week, the unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, its lowest level in 50 years. Soon after, the year-over-year inflation rate dropped slightly thanks to lower gasoline prices, and Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which, in addition to its fiscal measures, includes initiatives to combat climate change initiative and reduce medical and pharmacy costs for consumers. Following that major legislative win, Biden signed a law to promote US chip manufacturing and announced a debt relief plan benefitting millions of people with outstanding student loans.
The ongoing drama surrounding the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s mansion in Palm Beach (Florida, USA) and the subsequent revelations that the former president improperly stored classified documents there may have also factored into Biden’s surging job approval. Speaking at a Democratic National Committee grassroots campaign rally on August 25, Biden said, “My dad used to have a saying. He said, ‘Joey, don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.’ Well, the alternative to the Democrats is the MAGA [Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan] Republicans.” Republicans wanted the November elections to be a referendum on Biden, but it may end up being a referendum on Trump.
A shift is also taking place among Democrats competing in the November elections. Just a few weeks ago, these Democratic candidates seem to be maintaining some distance between themselves and the president, but now they are starting to seek his support. On August 30, Biden will travel to Wilkes Barre (Pennsylvania, USA) to campaign for Matthew Cartwright, whose seat in the House of Representatives is in jeopardy. Other candidates, however, still prefer to keep him at an arm’s length.
Democrats have also been more aggressive recently in responding to criticism from the opposition. Republicans recently jumped on the president for wasting taxpayer money to forgive the student loans of people privileged enough to have attended college. Colorado Representative Laurent Boebert, always one of the loudest critics, said “He [Biden] is the one robbing hard-working Americans to pay for Karen’s daughter’s degree in lesbian dance theory,” a rant that managed to pack in large doses of sexism, classism and homophobia.
The White House responded to Boebert and other Republican critics in a long tweet that listed the Republican legislators who had millions of dollars in pandemic assistance loans forgiven, stooping to a level not seen since the last presidential campaign. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a staunch Trump supporter who has also railed against the student loan forgiveness program, was singled out in the White House tweet as having $183,504 in loans forgiven. Biden’s own rhetoric has recently taken on a tougher tone, calling Trump’s philosophy “semi-fascism.”
The outcome of recent special elections to fill vacant congressional seats, such as Pat Ryan’s victory in New York’s 19th congressional district, has buoyed Democratic hopes. Ryan won by a larger margin than Biden’s victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential race.
Biden has matched Barack Obama’s job approval rating at the same point in his first term. He has also exceeded Trump’s approval rating, as well as Obama’s rating in his second term. However, the ruling party tends to fare poorly during midterm elections, and the Democrats have very little margin. One-third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives is being contested. The Senate is currently split at 50 senators each for the two main parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the vote tiebreaker. The most tightly contested battles for Senate seats will be in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. Only 10%-15% of the House seats will be truly competitive, and Democrats can only afford to drop two seats without losing control of the House. In the last four midterm elections, the president’s party has lost between 13 and 63 seats.
Dark Brandon wins meme battle
Biden has never been particularly active on social media, a stark contrast with the hyperactivity of his predecessor. But lately he has been turned into a trending meme of a superhero with red laser eyes called “Dark Brandon.” Democrats — including White House staff members — have been using the meme, which began as an ironic take on the already-ironic “Let’s go Brandon” meme from the right. “Let’s go Brandon” is an insult arising from a misunderstanding by a NASCAR announcer in Talladega (Alabama, USA) who thought that race fans were chanting their support of race winner Brandon Brown, when in fact they were chanting “Fuck Joe Biden.” Republicans latched on to this as an oblique way of insulting the president, and printed caps, signs and banners with the slogan.
Brandon has now been eclipsed by Dark Brandon, and Biden supporters have used the meme to credit the president’s superpowers for his latest victories. “Dark Brandon is crushing it,” tweeted White House deputy spokesperson Andrew Bates, after what was probably the most successful week of Biden’s presidency.