It remains the case that one of President Biden’s strongest arguments as he seeks reelection is that he is not Donald Trump.
From polling to focus groups, the same refrain emerges: A lot of voters don’t love Biden, but they fear a second Trump term. This isn’t everyone, obviously. Lots of people like Biden and lots of people like Trump. But in a possible contest between two relatively unpopular candidates, the less-unpopular one has a leg up.
New polling from the Associated Press, conducted by NORC, offers an interesting perspective on Biden’s unpopularity. His approval rating overall is a weak 40 percent, but on a number of issues he fares even worse. Only 3 in 10 Americans view his handling of the economy with approval, the same percentage that views his handling of immigration that well.
About the same percentage — 31 percent — said they viewed Biden’s handling of gun policy positively. That includes only 50 percent of Democrats.
That’s remarkable. Three-quarters of Democrats think Biden is doing a good job — but only half think he’s doing a good job on gun policy? This is almost certainly not a function of the idea propagated in conservative media that crime has surged in the United States. It’s likely much more a function of the increased pace of mass shootings the country has seen this year.
There’s not much Biden can do to reduce these events on his own. More than a decade of Capitol Hill wrestling has yielded a stalemate, with Republican elected officials refusing to support new limits on gun ownership. The president is left to express his frustrations largely through symbolic actions.
This legislative inaction has occurred despite most Americans — and most Republicans — supporting a panoply of potential ways to limit gun ownership. It seems safe to assume that the combination of a failure to act and the expansive toll of mass killings is leading to frustration with the president from within Biden’s party.
Last week, the 2022 iteration of the General Social Survey (GSS) was published. Conducted biannually, the national poll has asked Americans for their responses on a range of questions for half a century. Buried in its findings, an interesting shift: Support for mandating permits to own a gun ticked upward for only the second time in the past 20 years. That was true of both Democrats and Republicans.
This is a small shift upward, certainly, but it also follows a big decrease between 2018 and 2021 (the first GSS completed after the emergence of the coronavirus). In other words, this may be a slight correction after the big drop in support for permitting seen among Republicans between 2018 and 2021.
It may also conceivably be the start of a shift in the nature of the partisan divide on gun limits that has defined the debate for the past 20 years.
Last year’s GSS also measured a drop in the percentage of Republicans who report having a gun in the home. Interestingly, it showed a continuation of a trend that has been measured over the past decade. In 2014, about 14 percent of Black respondents reported having a gun in their homes. In 2022, a quarter did. Over that same period, the change among Whites was negligible.
It’s likely that part of the Democratic frustration with Biden on gun policy is a demonstration of frustration about gun policy in general, and isn’t necessarily specific to Biden. Dissatisfaction with elements of governance easily becomes dissatisfaction with the country’s president.
Here, too, Biden is advantaged by potentially facing off against Trump next year. If Democrats are frustrated at the lack of action on gun violence seen under Biden, what are the odds they think Trump will do better?