Jun 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The trajectory of past presidents' approval ratings in midterm years

Presidential approval ratings in the past four midterm cycles from spring through Election Day
Data: Gallup; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

In the last four midterm cycles, the president's approval rating by June was at or slightly above where it ultimately landed in early November.

Driving the news: President Biden's average approval has hovered for months in the low 40s, but hit a new low of 39.7% on Monday — worse than former President Trump's was at this point in 2018, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Why it matters: Presidential job approval — particularly at this stage of an election — can serve as a proxy for understanding how the public feels about the party in power in Washington. Biden's window of opportunity for boosting his standing ahead of the midterms is quickly closing.

  • There's no clear, concrete way to assess when voters make up their minds ahead of casting a ballot, but pollsters and political scientists say job approval is a useful snapshot of the country's mood.

The big picture: It becomes more difficult for late-breaking bombshell developments — like the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade or the Jan. 6 hearings — to have a real impact when there are voters who have made up their minds by the spring.

  • The sitting president's party usually faces strong headwinds in their first midterm cycle.
  • Approval trends suggest political perceptions can be baked in as early as February.

Between the lines: Primary contests don't get underway in earnest until May, and several states will continue to host their elections throughout the summer.

  • But Americans are voting early in record numbers, even in off-year elections and primaries — yet another sign of how dug-in their impressions of the parties often are.
  • Polling shows that the GOP continues to have an edge on midterm enthusiasm this year.
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