Discover more from Hopium Chronicles By Simon Rosenberg
A Stronger Response To Delta is Required Now
I’ve been struck in recent days by how much COVID’s return has begun to alter the basic political landscape in the US. Thursday’s Navigator…
I’ve been struck in recent days by how much COVID’s return has begun to alter the basic political landscape in the US. Thursday’s Navigator Research report found that on the question of whether on COVID “the worst is over” or “the worst is yet to come” voters have swung from 72% worst is over/13% worst is yet to come (+59) to 31% worst is over/51% worst is yet to come (-20, see graph below). The venerable University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey released last Friday reported one of its largest drops ever. Another important barometer of consumer sentiment, retail sales, unexpectedly dropped in July.
For Democrats, the most important COVID numbers relate to President Biden. In yesterday’s Navigator poll, President Biden’s approval on handling COVID was 54%-43%, +11. It was 65%-32%, +33, on May 10th and +15 on August 4th. On May 10th the President’s job approval was 53.5%-42.1%, +11, in 538. Today on 538 it is 49.1%-45.6%. +3.5. Both of these measures are the lowest of his Presidency.
It is important to note that this decline in the President’s approval has come when the economy was producing a million new jobs a month, GDP growth came in at 6.5% and tens of millions of people received two rounds of child tax credit payments. One would have expected the President’s numbers to be rising as the economy boomed, but instead they’ve dropped.
It should not be a surprise that the President’s approval is so tied to what is happening with COVID — it was the primary reason voters voted for him last year. The AP Vote Cast survey of 2020 election voters found 41% of voters said COVID was the most important issue, and they voted for Biden by 73%-25%. 29% said the economy was the most important issue and those voters, remarkably, broke for Trump 81%-19%. Coming in third was health care, at 9%, and those voters broke for Biden 65%-32%. A different question, “who would be better able to handle the economy,” also had Trump with a shockingly big advantage, 51%-39%, +12.
So it’s pretty clear that what elected Joe Biden was the hope that he could tame COVID — it sure wasn’t on economic issues. And he got very high marks when COVID appeared defeated this spring. But when it has come back, even though most voters don’t blame him for COVID’s return, his standing has taken a meaningful hit. This was the core promise of his campaign, and the work isn’t yet done.
The weakness Biden showed on economic issues during the campaign persists to this day, despite the clear success of his economic plans. This week’s Economist/YouGov track has Biden’s economic approval rating at 45%-45% among registered voters, and 37%-51% (yikes) with registered independents. Among registered voters 23% say the economy is getting better, 43% say it is getting worse. The last Navigator release with the President’s economic approval on August 5th (see graph below) had it in a similar place, 49%-47%. So it is unlikely that in the short term Biden will be able to use a pivot to his economic success/agenda to get his numbers back up, particularly if the economy slows in the coming months (as the consumer sentiment number, retail sales suggest) It is possible that a major PR campaign around the signing and implementation of the infrastructure bill (63%-23% +40 in Navigator today) could help in the coming days but the current White House plan doesn’t have it or reconciliation making it to the President’s desk for several months.
What all this suggests is that to get his numbers back up the President needs to return to a COVID war footing, and do everything he can to once and for all defeat COVID. We’ve been advocating for a prime time address on COVID so the President can remind the American people of the very real progress which has been made, and present a clear plan to defeat COVID here and everywhere in the world. He can make clear that until COVID is vanquished everywhere, new imported variants like delta could return, supply chains could continue to disrupted, and social decay could bring not just unacceptable levels of death and harm to humanity, but also political instability, unwanted migration and reduced global opportunities for American companies. We are in a war with the virus, and it is war we simply have to do more to win.
There is urgency for more direct Presidential engagement as a majority of schools and colleges/universities are set to open in the coming weeks, which will make the status of the nation’s fight against COVID issue number one in every community for some time. So how the President now handles COVID, with it so front and center for most Americans again, could very well define the next stage of his Presidency more than any other issue in front of him, including the tragedy in Afghanistan.
The White House seems to understand this now, and we’ve seen far more aggressive actions against COVID in recent weeks. A booster shot is now coming for all those who are vaccinated. The Secretary of Education announced more support for schools trying to protect their students and teachers from the virus. FEMA has started fielding more requests for emergency medical support. The military is now going to require vaccination, as will the federal government itself. Vaccine rates are thankfully rising again, and the last two days have been the best vaccine days we’ve seen in some time. Late today there was news that the FDA would grant approval to Pfizer’s COVID vaccine — which will be an enormous step forward.
The President and his Democratic allies should making COVID their number issue in the coming weeks, particularly as new Navigator polling shows Democrats with huge 20–30 point advantages on combating COVID and enforcing mask mandates in schools.
A new AP-NORC poll shows similar 20–30 point margins even for aggressive actions like requiring vaccination for travel, entry to restaurants and bars, attend crowded events:
What we are seeing in these polls is that the 70% who have been vaccinated and have acted responsibly are open to, even demanding, more action from the government to protect them as delta spreads and schools reopen. The opposition to many of these measures are mostly in the high 20s and low 30s, or about the same percentage of people who have chosen not to get vaccinated. It’s our belief that the President has a great deal of running room now to take the side of the responsible 70%, and implement far more aggressive actions to reduce the theat of COVID in the coming days. The return of COVID has created a new political dynamic, one which the President must respond to, forcefully.
Within a few days all schools in America will be open again, which is likely to create an even greater demand for strong Presidential leadership to protect our kids, our communities and our economy. It’s time now for the President to lean in and win this fight with COVID and its MAGA allies. It is the right thing to do for the country, and for his own standing with the American people. He was elected to defeat COVID, and that must remain his central focus, job #1, until it is defeated here and everywhere.
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