It’s exactly one year since the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States.
But judging from the opinion polls it’s not a happy anniversary for either Biden or his party. Consider his approval ratings. Unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden began the year with more people approving than disapproving of his Presidency. But by the end of the summer his ratings had turned negative.
Kamala Harris’s ratings have also turned negative over the course of the last year. If anything, the Vice President is even more unpopular than her boss:
There’s bad news for the Democrats as a party too. This week, Gallup published research that reveals a dramatic turn around during 2021. At the start of the year, the Democrats had a nine point lead on party identification/leaning. However, the Republicans then closed the gap and carried on going — finishing the year five points in front.
Writing for the Washington Post, Henry Olsen points out just how unusual it is for the Republicans to be ahead on this measure. Democrat domination of party affiliation has an all-but-unbroken record stretching back to the 1930s.
It remains to be seen whether the developments of 2021 represent a lasting shift in American politics. Biden’s first year had been marked by some unusually disruptive events like the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the supply chain crisis and the Omicron wave. If the next three years are less crisis-ridden, then Democrat fortunes could improve.
However, there are some trends that could bring permanent change to American politics. Democrats will be especially anxious about the Hispanic vote. A poll last month for the Wall Street Journal found that Hispanic voters were equally split between the Democrats and Republicans.
According to the Pew Research Centre, Hispanics in 2020 voted for Biden over Trump by 59% to 38%. If this group is now equally divided between Democrats and Republicans then that would be a massive change (even allowing for the general slide in Biden’s popularity). However, as a direction of travel, it would be consistent with a longer-term trend. Trump may have lost in 2020, but compared to his 2016 result he made significant gains among ethnic minority voters.
It’s a reminder that the changes in public opinion that took place last year can’t just be explained by the events of that year. They are part of a much longer, and perhaps unexpected, story.