The announcement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement last week comes at a vulnerable time for President Joe Biden. His approval rating is at its lowest point, 41%, in a polling average. Its decline is clear even among major Democratic groups.
The good news for the president is that the upcoming Supreme Court nomination battle probably can’t hurt and could help him gain ground with his base. For starters, it could motivate them to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, as we learned from the nominations under former President Donald Trump’s administration.
You can see Biden’s grassroots issues in a recent Pew Research Center poll. His approval rating among Democrats had fallen to just 76%. Biden’s standing with independent-leaning Democrats was still below 56%. At its peak, in April 2021, its approval rating with each group was about 20 and 30 points higher respectively.
Within the Democratic base, Biden’s numbers have plummeted among young voters and minorities. The Pew poll put him back at a 35% approval rating among 18-29 year olds, even though that was his strongest age group in the 2020 election. Biden slipped to just 60% with black adults, even as he won that group with about 90% of the vote in 2020, when he first pledged to nominate a black woman to court .
Biden’s decline in his base comes after he has so far been unable to meet his Build Back Better agenda and his federal voting rights legislation, as well as bitter views on his handling of the economy and the coronavirus. .
That’s why he needs to remind the Democrats why they voted for him in the first place.
Appointing a liberal who would make history to the Supreme Court can do just that, even if it won’t change the ideological makeup of the court. Democrats turned against the court with its 6-3 conservative majority. A recent Marquette University Law School poll dropped Democratic approval for the court to 45%. It was 57% two months before the 2020 elections.
Now, to be fair, a successful Supreme Court confirmation might not be enough to help Biden given voters’ views on the economy and the pandemic.
Often, however, an event can shake things up in politics. Biden’s decline in popularity began with Americans disliking the way he handled the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August. Few voters cared much about Afghanistan in particular during the pullout, but it set off a cascading train of bad news for Biden that continued with concerns over the coronavirus – with the Delta variants emerging. and Omicron – and the economy.
Biden is likely hoping a supreme nomination and confirmation can do the opposite. Name someone popular to court, see Covid-19 cases plummet (as they are right now) and maybe the Democrats will come back to support Biden.
We’ve already seen how a fight for the Supreme Court nomination can help a struggling president under the Trump administration.
Trump’s first nominee for the court, now Judge Neil Gorsuch, was one of the most positively received actions by Trump in his first 100 days in office. His nomination and confirmation came at a time when Trump’s popularity fell steadily for most of those first 100 days.
Trump’s popularity rose immediately after Gorsuch’s confirmation. While we can’t prove Gorsuch’s confirmation gave Trump a temporary boost, it certainly didn’t hurt. In an average of polls, Trump’s net approval rating fell from -12 points the day before confirmation to -7 points a month later. That may not seem like a lot, but remember that Trump generally had one of the most stable approval ratings ever and the small move before that had been against him.
Trump’s surge in approval ratings reversed after he fired then-FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, showing a Supreme Court nomination won’t help. not necessarily if the public blames you for other things.
Trump’s next nominating fight to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh now may have helped Republicans retain the Senate midway through 2018.
The Republicans would have lost the majority had they not overturned at least one seat held by the Democrats. They ended up flipping four seats in states that Trump won in 2016 (and later won again in 2020).
Republicans have credited Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation hearings and Democratic senators voting against him with shifting the Senate’s odds in their favor. Indeed, statistical models at the time showed in real time that Republicans’ chances of retaining the Senate were improving as they gained ground in red states where vulnerable Democratic incumbents were in defense.
The hearings also appeared to boost Republicans’ chances of voting midterm. Likely voters have become more Republican than all registered voters, according to an analysis by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.
Enthusiasm is important because midterm elections have lower voter turnout than presidential elections, and Democrats have an enthusiasm problem right now.
A recent NBC News poll found Republicans are more than 10 points more likely to say they have a high interest in the 2022 midterms than Democrats. This is a major drop for Democrats from a few months ago and a reversal from where we were at this point in the 2018 midterm cycle.
Specifically, the poll indicates that black voters and younger Democrats experienced some of the steepest declines in interest. It’s the generally Democratic-leaning groups where Biden’s approval has also fallen the most.
This is no coincidence and should worry Democrats. If you look at the polls (e.g. Quinnipiac University), these groups still favor Democratic candidates for Congress by significant margins.
But if those voters aren’t running because they don’t like Biden, then it doesn’t matter that they still prefer Democratic congressional candidates over Republicans.
And if the Democrats lose even one Senate seat in November, that will severely limit Biden’s ability to appoint anyone else to the court for the remainder of his first term if the opportunity arises. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has already suggested it.