It seems like a long, long time ago that Joe Biden was running for president, running as a rock-solid centrist. He won the nomination mainly because he wasn’t Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats to Garland: ‘It’s time to end the federal death penalty’ Overnight Health Care: Pentagon to require all troops to get vaccine by mid-September | Dems unveil .5T budget resolution | Biden yet to nominate new FDA chief even as delta surges Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers’ accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images MORE (I-Vt.) who his own party thought was playing deep left field and couldn’t win in the general election. But now, just over six months into his presidency, Biden has become what Bernie Sanders confidently predicted he would become — the most progressive president since FDR.
Except that’s not who Americans thought they were voting for. Voters don’t like thinking they’ve been tricked. Which brings us to a recent poll that doesn’t look good for President BidenJoe BidenTwo Florida school districts refusing to let students opt out of mask mandates Senate set to pass bipartisan infrastructure bill Tuesday On The Money: The key parts of Democrats’ .5T budget resolution | Job openings hit record high for third straight month MORE and his party.
The poll by ABC News/Ipsos, taken in mid-July, found that a majority of Americans — 55 percent — say they’re pessimistic about the direction of the country. But as recently as early May, only 36 percent said the same thing to the same pollsters. If your stock portfolio dropped that much in so short a time, you’d be more than a little unsettled. After going through this poll, that’s how Democrats also should feel.
In May, according to ABC News, “Americans were more optimistic than pessimistic by a 28-point margin. Optimism is now under water by 10 points.”
And here’s the really bad news for the president and his party: “The decline in optimism has occurred across the board among Democrats, Republicans and independents. Optimism is down about 20 points among Democrats and Republicans and down 26 points among independents,” according to ABC News.
If independents really are in play, Democrats had better take notice. They’ll need not only strong support from their own base but also from those independents if they want to hold on to control of the House and not lose seats in the Senate. A lot can happen between now and November 2022 but, right now, if independents aren’t optimistic about the future, Democrats have reason not to be optimistic either.
Maybe you’ve heard the rumblings — the comparison of Biden’s presidency to that of another Democrat, Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterBiden nominates Mark Brzezinski to be U.S. ambassador to Poland Azar regrets Trump didn’t get vaccinated on national TV Austin misses an opportunity in Singapore but scores big in Philippines MORE. President Carter was a decent human being, but if you’re someone occupying the White House after him, you don’t want your presidency compared to his, which as you know, lasted only one term.
Why have so many Americans fallen out of love with Joe Biden? Well, for openers, they never really were in love with him in the first place. Biden didn’t get elected because Americans saw him as a visionary, or as a man of great wisdom and charisma. They voted for him because he wasn’t Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWatchdog sues FEC for closing investigation into Rick Scott, allied super PAC Iowa man sentenced to 10 years for shooting Black teen at pro-Trump parade The SALT deduction cap makes it harder for communities to recover MORE. And they figured they were getting the moderate he told them he was. Now they’re seeing the career politician they voted for.
Here’s what else they’re seeing: out-of-control crime in big and not-so-big cities across America; a mess on the southern border; homelessness that is encroaching on all sorts of neighborhoods that once didn’t have that problem; the Delta variant of COVID-19, along with confusion over who needs to wear masks and who doesn’t; higher prices at the food store and the gas station; and those multitrillion-dollar spending bills the president is trying to get through Congress.
Even Franklin Roosevelt, the man Biden seems to be channeling, would have a tough time winning two terms, let alone four times, with all of that hanging around his neck.
When Carter was president there was talk about a “national malaise.” Americans, an optimistic people, don’t like that kind of thing; it’s a big reason Carter’s presidency lasted only four years. If the term “national malaise” pops up again this time around, Biden will not only be channeling FDR; there’s a good chance he’ll also be channeling Jimmy Carter.
And if the next election is about “the economy, stupid,” as Democratic strategist James Carville famously once said, then Democrats have one more thing to worry about. While the overwhelming majority of Democrats — 88 percent — approve of how Biden is handling the post-pandemic economic recovery, not surprisingly only 16 percent of Republicans do — but, most importantly, only 49 percent of independents approve.
Americans still like Biden — at least they like him more than they ever liked Trump. According to Gallup, in mid-June, Biden’s approval rating was 56 percent. But in July it was down 6 points to 50 percent. In June, 55 percent of independents approved of Biden’s job in office; in July that dropped seven points to 48 percent.
According to exit polls, Americans not aligned with either major party favored Biden for president by 13 percentage points. That’s the biggest margin among independents in more than three decades.
Six months into his presidency, independents are on the move — moving away from the president they supported last year. They thought they were voting for “middle-class Joe,” the centrist Democrat. But that Joe Biden has been moving left pretty much from the moment he took the oath of office. That might make Bernie Sanders and other progressive Democrats happy. Not so much, though, for those independents who will have a big say about which party will win elections in 2022 — and two years after that.
Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.