The biggest unknown of this election: Can the Democrats beat Joe Biden?


Election Day 2022 is two weeks away and there are still many questions to be answered. But perhaps the biggest of these comes down to one simple fact: President Joe Biden’s approval rating is below his disapproval rating nationally and in every key state.

The most important question, then, is whether the Democratic candidates for the House and Senate can overcome Biden by enough margins to beat him. The answer may very well be different for the House and the Senate.

Check out the latest polls from the University of Monmouth. In recent months they have been calling for a generic vote for Congress and Biden’s approval rating.

Democrats’ position in the general vote has worsened in each successive poll. At the beginning of August it increased by 3 points, at the end of September it decreased by 2 points and in the middle of October it decreased by 6 points. The trend line tends to match what we’re seeing nationally as Republicans peak in the general vote after Roe v. Since Wade was overruled in June.

What’s interesting about the poll is that Biden’s net approval (approval – disapproval) hasn’t changed much over that period. It has been between -16 and -18 points. In other words, the fortunes of the Democrats don’t seem to be keeping pace with Biden’s popularity ratings.

A look under the hood of the polls, however, shows how big a role Biden plays in people’s decisions.

In early August, Democrats saw a 59-point drop in the general vote among those who disapproved of Biden’s performance. It may seem like a wide margin, but it would be a significant result for the Democrats.

Those who disapproved of Barack Obama’s job performance lost by 73 points in 2010 (a first-term Democratic president serving his first half-term). Republicans lost by 82 points among those who disapproved of Donald Trump’s performance in 2018.

Recent Monmouth polls have trended in the wrong direction among Democrats. Their deficit in the general vote increased to 70 points in September and 77 points in October, among those who disapprove of Biden’s job performance.

That 77-point margin was pretty close to the 84-point margin Democrats had with the smaller group that endorsed Biden’s job. This is only a 7 point difference.

Given how much higher Biden’s disapproval rating is than his approval rating, those are the kinds of margins Republicans would be happy to take.

Democrats are hoping for something closer to what they saw in new CNN polls in Senate races released Monday by SSRS. Democratic state governor John Fetterman led Republican Mehmet Oz by 6 points in Pennsylvania. In the Wisconsin Senate race, Republican Senator Ron Johnson won by one point over his Democratic opponent, state Governor Mandela Barnes. (Both races were within the polls’ margin of error.)

Fetterman led those who approved of Biden’s job with a margin of 95 points. He was losing among those who disapproved by a margin of 67 points. That’s a difference of 28 points, or four times what we saw in the polls in Monmouth.

In the Wisconsin poll, Barnes was up 97 points among those who approve of Biden and down 76 points among those who disapprove of Biden. This is a difference of 21 points, or three times what we saw nationally in Monmouth.

We saw a similar pattern in the CNN polls in the Arizona and Nevada Senate races.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Democratic nominees in Senate races tend to outpace Biden more than the generic Democrat. Historically, there has been less correlation between sentiment between a president and Senate races than in House races.

Also, many Republican candidates for the Senate are not well liked. This allows Democrats to localize more races.

Whatever the cause, the question is whether Democrats have kept it up in the final two weeks of this campaign. If voters base their Senate votes on their feelings for Biden, Democrats’ small leads in places like Arizona and Pennsylvania may not last until Election Day.