By Matt Lewis
In Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a character is asked how he went bankrupt. “Gradually, then suddenly” is the reply.
This formulation might also help explain how it feels to lose an election. President Joe Biden’s collapse of popular support has been so long coming that a new Quinnipiac poll showing him with just a 33 percent approval rating (!) was greeted mostly with yawns.
Dig a little deeper, though, and things are even scarier for Democrats.
Biden is polling at a dismal 24 percent approval among Hispanics (with 54 percent disapproving). And while his numbers among African-Americans are still above water at 63 percent, his numbers have fallen almost 20 percentage points since last April.
This poll may constitute a new low, but it’s no flukey outlier. The trends are clear. NBC News recently compared polling from 2018 (a great midterm year for Dems) with its own 2022 polling—and college-educated women are the only cohort that has become bluer. (Conversely, NBC News found a “pronounced [Republican] shift among men of 20 points,” as Steve Kornacki noted.)
So why is this all happening, and what does it all mean? Let’s unpack this.
There are a lot of theories about why Hispanics have soured on Biden, but let’s just start with a few choice cuts.
Many Hispanics work in the service sector, and were disproportionately harmed by lockdowns (a policy that is more likely to be associated with the Democratic Party). Some Hispanics came to America from socialist countries with political repression and failed economies, and thus, aren’t fond of the Democratic Party’s increasingly socialist tilt. And some are repelled by the party’s “woke” politics. For example, many Latinos really don’t like the word “Latinx.” And there is polling to suggest that Hispanic Democrats were especially turned off by “defund the police” rhetoric.
What about Black Americans? One theory holds that Biden’s failure to pass progressive legislation, like a voting rights bill or police reform, is to blame. But there really isn’t any data to suggest that Black voters prioritized these goals. Likewise, Biden’s slide with Black Americans started before his legislative failures. (Interestingly, it seems more plausible that Biden’s vaccine mandates might actually have something to do with this decline.)
The main explanation, though, is probably a simple one: Hispanics and African-Americans—like a lot of us—are worried about inflation.
As Democratic pollster Jay Campbell told CNBC, “Cost of living has just blown everything else, including COVID, out of the water. And part of the reason for that is, there are attitudes about the economy that are largely a partisan phenomenon,” Campbell said. “That is not the case with inflation, or at least not right now. It is the top issue for Democrats, independents, and Republicans.”
This makes even more sense when you consider that inflation hurts low-wage Americans worse than anyone, and a disproportionate percentage of minorities belong to that economic cohort. As a result, some formerly reliable Democratic voters may be prioritizing their “working class” status over their racial identity.
To understand just how dangerous this attrition is for Dems, consider that only about 37.5 percent of Americans have a bachelor’s degree, and that about 60 percent of Americans are white (about 65 percent of whites did not graduate from college). Because non-college educated whites have been strongly trending toward Republicans, Democrats have to over-perform with everyone else just to keep pace. It’s not enough to win college graduates and minority voters—the margins matter. And Joe Biden isn’t delivering.
Further complicating the problem is that the most predictable quick-fix solutions might actually deepen Democrats’ long-term problems.
If you assume that college-educated women are your core base, what do you do or say to juice their turnout numbers? And if you assume that minority votes are vital to prevent an electoral tsunami, what (aside from actually fixing inflation) do you say or do?
It’s a Catch-22. The quickest way for Democrats to boost their numbers may be to do or say progressive things that would ironically perpetuate their long-term decline.
In this regard, Democrats are sort of like a man lost at sea who finally decides to quench his thirst by drinking saltwater. And if the Democrats are out to sea, Biden deserves much of the blame.
Upon winning office, Biden promptly ignored the “Biden coalition” that got him elected, and tried to become the second coming of LBJ. The disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan came on his watch, and that seems to have begun his polling decline. Similarly, Biden’s policies and rhetoric likely contributed to a range of problems, including inflation and the border crisis. And lastly, Biden’s inability to effectively lead or inspire as a public speaker makes it very hard for him to change the current trajectory.
With his approval ratings hitting a new low, Joe Biden had better hope that April is, indeed, the cruelest month of the year. We were already expecting a complete wipeout for Dems, come November. Make no mistake: It could get even worse.