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Analysis: Is this the beginning of a Joe Biden comeback?

Beset by the Omicron variant, high inflation and the uncertainty in Ukraine, Biden’s poll numbers have lagged badly, with his approval ratings stuck in the low 40s.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll suggests that all might be changing. Biden’s overall job approval rating among Americans is at 47% in the survey, up 8 points from where he was in the same poll last month.

That bump is reflected in individual issues too. A majority (52%) of Americans now approve of how Biden is handling the situation with Russia and Ukraine — up 18(!) points from last month. On Covid-19, 55% now approve of the way he is handling the pandemic, up 8 points from last month. And 45% approve of his handling of the economy, a 9-point increase. 

Some of that positive movement can be attributed to Biden’s State of the Union speech earlier this week. It was generally well-received, and anytime a president has the bully pulpit for an hour in prime time, it’s usually a good thing for him.

But there are several other threads beyond a temporary State of the Union bump that suggest a Biden comeback could be in the works.

1) His handling of the Ukraine situation — leading an international coalition against Russia and imposing harsh economic sanctions all while refusing to commit American military forces — has won him positive reviews from Democrats and Republicans.

2) The US economy is clearly moving in the right direction — and fast. An eye-popping 678,000 jobs were added in February alone. The unemployment rate is now down to 3.8%, the lowest it’s been in two years.
3) Covid-19 is in retreat. Average daily case numbers are down to around 55,000 nationally, and a slew of states are getting rid of indoor mask mandates — making “normal” seem a whole lot more attainable.

Now, it’s worth noting that if the past two presidencies — Barack Obama and Donald Trump — have taught us anything, it’s that partisanship has hardened in the electorate. That trend leaves fewer independents and fence-sitters whose opinions of Biden can change based on external events.

That said, Biden’s numbers earlier in his term were in the mid-50s — he was at 54% approval in Gallup polling at roughly this time last year — which means some elasticity remains in the electorate.

The Point: Democrats on the ballot this November have to hope this represents a real turning point for Biden and not just a false positive. If his numbers remain anywhere close to the low 40s, the 2022 election is going to be a wipeout for his party.

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