Polling over the last few months has shown a marked drop in support for Joe Biden, with his approval in the latest RealClearPolitics “poll of polls” standing at 44 percent – 11 percentage points below where he stood in late May.
There’s been a lot of speculation as to what’s behind this slide, so we endeavored to get some clarity. Among those adults whose opinions have shifted are Trump-to-Biden swing voters in key swing states—the kinds of voters who decide elections, and who we just happen to interview every month. In our latest Swing Voter Project focus groups—conducted on October 12 with a dozen voters from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Arizona—we discovered the following:
First, personal feelings about Biden are taking a turn for the worse. Each month, we ask respondents what one emotion they feel the most when they see President Biden on TV or their devices. A few in this month’s groups felt “content,” “relief,” and “empathy,” but many were negative, saying they felt “frustration,” “disappointed,” “concerned,” “irritated,” “helpless,” or “confused.”
The preponderance of negative emotions is a new development. As recently as March, for example, responses were overwhelmingly positive, with participants reporting feeling “relaxed,” “relief,” “positive and hopeful,” “calm,” “renewed pride,” or “hope” when they saw Biden.
These October swing voters don’t think Biden has done enough yet in his term. Some, however, are sympathetic to the challenges limiting the president’s successes, such as having a lot to clean up after Trump left office and an unpredictable pandemic to manage.
When asked to sum up Biden’s presidency, Shifa, 24, from Sugar Land, TX, said, “I feel like he hasn’t done enough, but at the same time, it’s something that I feel like we need to be more patient about.”
Julie, 46, from Grandview, TX agreed: “[Biden has done] a lot of sweeping up the garbage that was inherited. That takes time….He’s done better than I expected initially.”
Lisa, 53, from Pine Grove, PA, also cut Biden some slack, yet still felt disappointed: “I think he came into a tough situation with the pandemic and things that Trump did, and I don’t think he handled the pandemic the best that he could have. Unfortunately, he has a lot on his plate.”
Meanwhile, Stuart, 64, from Fort Lauderdale, FL, was more pointed: “He’s supposed to be the great uniter. Where is he uniting?”
Quite notably, four respondents think Biden is not running an ethical administration. But their criticisms were about policy and transparency, not personal behavior. His son Hunter, who has engaged in questionable business behavior in the past, was not mentioned a single time in relation to ethics. Instead, comments sounded like this:
“Not giving the full scope of [information about] what is happening as it relates to the vaccine…. That’s definitely not ethical…. What I don’t think [Biden is] allowing to be discussed is the true adverse reactions to the vaccines. If you don’t do that, you’re not allowing people to make the best decisions for themselves and the family,” said Shamika, 47, from Roswell, GA.
Finally, we’re starting to detect some buyer’s remorse among our swing voters. Three of the 12 respondents regret voting for Biden to the point where they would take Trump back in a hypothetical rematch.
“I feel like Joe Biden is just all over the place. I’m not getting a strong sense of leadership, I’m not getting a strong sense of being firm and decisive. I feel like the United States is divided more than ever, and I do regret voting for him,” explained Shamika.
Stuart said, “He didn’t do anything wrong, but I don’t think he’s as strong a leader as possibly the other of the two evils [Trump]. He doesn’t have the stamina; he doesn’t have the energy.”
“He is not a man of action,” said Kenneth, 27, from Houston, TX.
If Biden wants to win back these swing voters, he’ll need to get busy, and fast.
“We haven’t seen any genuine change from him…. If I saw results in any way possible, I would probably have some faith restored. But I feel like there hasn’t been anything that’s really been taken care of since he was put into office…. There’s nothing positive that’s come out of this presidency just yet,” said Shifa.
“We’re trying to push this infrastructure bill that’s supposed to put in all this money inside of infrastructure between bridges, dams, roadways, and also renewable energy. For him to really gain back my trust, and/or my vote come the next term, is seeing some progress in this front…. If we can get this pushed throughout this presidential term, then that’s a big step in the right direction,” said Kenneth.
Shamika agreed: “One of the areas where I support him is in renewable energy, in finding alternative energy sources, also pushing [for] electric vehicles. I would love for him to really stand behind that.”
Making visible progress appears to be the best way for Biden to regain support from swing voters. If this month’s drop in support is any indicator of what’s to come, Biden will need some quick and notable successes to turn the tide back in his favor.
Rich is the president of Engagious. His company is the industry leader in scientifically testing and refining the effectiveness of business and issue-advocacy content, moment-to-moment. The firm helps its clients become more successful by applying the power of behavioral science and social psychology to dial test focus groups.
Susie Pieper is a student at Haverford College and an intern at Engagious.