I’ve been struck in recent days by how much COVID’s return has begun to alter the basic political landscape in the US. Thursday’s Navigator Research report found that on the question of whether on COVID “the worst is over” or “the worst is yet to come” voters have swung from 72% worst is over/13% worst is yet to come (+59) to 31% worst is over/51% worst is yet to come (-20, see graph below). The venerable University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey released last Friday reported one of its largest drops ever. Another important barometer of consumer sentiment, retail sales, unexpectedly dropped in July.
For Democrats, the most important COVID numbers relate to President Biden. In yesterday’s Navigator poll, President Biden’s approval on handling COVID was 54%-43%, +11. It was 65%-32%, +33, on May 10th and +15 on August 4th. On May 10th the President’s job approval was 53.5%-42.1%, +11, in 538. Today on 538 it is 49.1%-45.6%. +3.5. Both of these measures are the lowest of his Presidency.
It is important to note that this decline in the President’s approval has come when the economy was producing a million new jobs a month, GDP growth came in at 6.5% and tens of millions of people received two rounds of child tax credit payments. One would have expected the President’s numbers to be rising as the economy boomed, but instead they’ve dropped.
It should not be a surprise that the President’s approval is so tied to what is happening with COVID — it was the primary reason voters voted for him last year. The AP Vote Cast survey of 2020 election voters found 41% of voters said COVID was the most important issue, and they voted for Biden by 73%-25%. 29% said the economy was the most important issue and those voters, remarkably, broke for Trump 81%-19%. Coming in third was health care, at 9%, and those voters broke for Biden 65%-32%. A different question, “who would be better able to handle the economy,” also had Trump with a shockingly big advantage, 51%-39%, +12.
So it’s pretty clear that what elected Joe Biden was the hope that he could tame COVID — it sure wasn’t on economic issues. And he got very high marks when COVID appeared defeated this spring. But when it has come back, even though most voters don’t blame him for COVID’s return, his standing has taken a meaningful hit…