Not much to approve of

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Not much to approve of

Chae Byung-gun

The author is the international, diplomatic and security news director of the JoongAng Ilbo.

U.S. President Joe Biden is going through an approval ratings crisis. It’s not as serious as Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s 20 percent ratings. But after the ratings dropped to the 30% level, the situation is not easy. Earlier this month, Reuters’ poll showed that Biden’s ratings bounced back to 40 percent. But he still cannot be reassured. With only three months left until the midterm elections, the number is especially grave.

In a July poll by Gallup, Biden’s approval rating was 38 percent, the lowest since taking office. According to the pollster, Biden’s rating was the lowest among previous presidents for the same period after inauguration, excluding second terms. Until now, Jimmy Carter’s 40 percent and Donald Trump’s 42 percent were the lowest. Other institutions also reported new lows. NPR and PBS polls between July 11 and 17 showed that Biden’s rating fell to 36 percent, also one of the lowest levels since taking office.

Biden is struggling because of the economy. For both Korea and the U.S., making a living is not easy amid the global supply chain crisis, oil price hikes and high inflation. In a New York Times poll from July 5 to 7, only 13 percent of respondents said that the U.S. was headed in the right direction.

But the situation is even worse if you analyze polls by Democrats and Republicans. Biden faces an approval ratings crisis due to the breakaway of his support base. Since the Trump administration, the main characteristics of American politics is extreme polarization. Gallup described it as “extreme political partisanship” based on unconditional support for their own side and dislike for the other side. Biden’s highest approval rating was 57 percent shortly after his inauguration in January 2021, but his ratings among Republican supporters was a mere 11 percent. (Only one in ten Republicans complemented him). In a July poll by Gallup, only 5 percent of Republican supporters approved of Biden’s administrative execution.

The crisis with Biden’s approval rating was largely caused by the scattering of his supporters. According to the July Gallup poll, Democratic supporters’ approval of Biden dropped to 78 percent, the lowest ever. NPR and PBS’ July polls showed 75 percent rating among Democrats — also the lowest in polls by the agencies. Democrats actually gave overwhelming support — 98 percent — at the beginning of the Biden administration, according to the Gallup poll. But now the figure fell to the 70 percent range. What about moderates’ support for Biden? When even the Democrats withdraw their support for Biden, moderates would hardly support him.

Biden won the election on an anti-Trump agenda, but his foreign policy raised questions as he decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. His response to inflation also caused troubles. Moreover, his age — 79 — makes his supporters anxious. A poll showed that 64 percent of Democrats prefer another candidate over Biden for the next presidential campaign largely due to his age. In a New York Times survey in July, 33 percent said age was the reason for the change, followed by 32 percent for state administration.

The Democrats who were angry at Trump’s politics of division gave overwhelming support to Biden, but his administration could not prove its ability to effectively respond to the price surges and raw materials shortages. In America, supporters felt anxious about their president being forgetful, while in Korea, supporters were worried about an unprepared president and his unrefined language.

While Biden won the election with his anti-Trump campaign, he could not appease the supporters struggling to make a living. Voters who were tired of the Moon Jae-in administration blaming the past conservative administrations for its own policy failures supported Yoon in the March 9 presidential election. But they were disappointed after the Yoon administration claimed that it is still better than the Moon administration. As the governing party is experiencing an internal feud in Korea, it seems natural that Yoon gets a 20 percent approval rating, even lower than Biden’s 30 percent range. In Korea and America alike, political traction disappears when supporters are frustrated.
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