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Analysis: How Joe Biden turned into a leading boogeyman for Republicans

It would be an understatement to say much has changed since then. While there were some signs the public’s views of Biden were on the uptick following his State of the Union address and initial response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, his job performance numbers have still been mostly mired in the low 40s.

Pew’s survey found that 71% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said they think of their vote for Congress this fall as being “against Biden.” Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, just 46% said they view their vote as “for Biden.” (Among all registered voters, 36% said their vote would be “against Biden,” 24% said “for Biden,” and 38% said Biden would not be much of a factor.)

While that wide party split should be concerning for Democrats, it’s not terribly surprising. Historically, voters tend to deliver a rebuke to the party in power during the first midterm of a president’s tenure.

What’s more surprising is that Biden — who was seen by many as a middle-of-the-road alternative to Trump in the 2020 election and immediately after — is more of a motivating factor for midterm voters of the opposing party than other recent presidents who were initially seen as more polarizing.

Pew’s polling found in June of 2018 that 61% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters said their vote for Congress would be against then-President Donald Trump, who was despised by liberals from the outset. In June of 2010, 54% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said their midterm vote would be against then-President Barack Obama, who faced opposition from the Tea Party movement early on in his administration.

And in June of 2006, ahead of the second midterm election of George W. Bush’s presidency, 65% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters said their congressional vote would be against him. At that point, Bush’s popularity was in the tank for a variety of reasons, including the Iraq War and his response to Hurricane Katrina.

In all three years, the president’s party encountered a midterm “shellacking,” as Obama famously put it in his case. (In Bush’s first midterm in 2002, the GOP bucked historical trends and gained seats in Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attack.) And right now, Biden is even more of a motivating factor for the rival party.

So, what’s changed for Biden? The President’s numbers may say less about him personally than the increasingly polarizing nature of the country’s politics.

Rather than landing on a single line of attack, Republicans have just attacked Biden on, well, everything, ranging from the Afghanistan withdrawal, to the pandemic, to inflation, to his Supreme Court pick. And they’ve done so relentlessly in ads, congressional floor speeches and appearances on Fox.

That’s not to say the criticism Biden has faced is unwarranted or that he hasn’t had his fair share of missteps. And his numbers among Democrats and independents have suffered over the past 14 months too.

But the reality is there’s likely very little the President could have done in an increasingly divided and nationalized environment to avoid a stinging and widespread backlash from Republicans (some of whom don’t even believe Biden was duly elected in the first place).

Republicans know this and will look to take full advantage of it heading into November.

The Point: Biden’s numbers in the Pew poll further underscore the uphill climb Democrats face this fall — and just how polarized the political climate has become.

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