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See! It’s a sign that democracy isn’t totally broken


A lot is broken right now in American politics. The good news is that there is new evidence that one important thing works really well: When bad things happen, presidents become less popular, and when good things happen? Their approval ratings are improving. Six weeks ago, President Joe Biden’s approval ratings were dropping rapidly. This continued into July, eventually hitting a low of 37.5%, according to FiveThirtyEight. He has recovered a fair amount, gaining three percentage points over the past 30 days. No one can prove why Biden’s numbers have rebounded, but two major drags on American life during his presidency — gas prices and Covid-19 cases — are finally dropping at the same time in recent weeks. Employment, meanwhile, remains solid while headline inflation is still high, but falling. As a result, overall perceptions of the economy are increasing.

There have been other positive developments in the news – some of which Biden is more directly responsible for – but historical approval ratings suggest they are less likely to be affected by the passage of bills. law and their signature.

All of this is very good news for the political system. Although it seems obvious, it is a healthy sign for our political system if positive news makes presidents more popular and negative news makes them less popular. And there has been a lot of speculation otherwise.

Donald Trump’s approval ratings generally didn’t react that way. Even when perceptions of the economy were great, Trump never managed to achieve approval as high as 50%. After its first few months, its approval ratings refused to budge much for good or bad news. For some analysts, it seemed that the sharpening of partisan polarization ushered in a new era of presidential politics. The president’s views would depend on partisanship, not the actual state of the union. If this is true, then presidents would no longer have a strong electoral incentive to produce results that would make voters happy.

As long as presidents and their parties have strong incentives to produce positive results and avoid doing things that would upset voters, the basic structure of democracy should, over time, tend to have good results. It’s a big problem !

In the meantime, it’s obviously good news for Biden and Democrats that he’s rebounding from his low point, but he’s still highly unlikely to recover enough in time to help his party halfway through. Historically, the president’s party will almost certainly be crushed if that president’s approval rating falls below 45%, and Biden will have to keep winning to get closer to that level. After 576 days, there are still only two presidents in the polls era who have had worse numbers: Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter.

For weekend reading, here are some of the best recent articles from political scientists:

• Natalie Jackson on abortion and midterms.

• Casey Burgat of Mischiefs of Faction on abortion and geographic sorting.

• John Hudak on Trump and the midterm reviews.

• Dan Nexon on the economy of China and the United States.

• Emily B. Jackson and Angie Torres-Beltran at Monkey Cage on public opinion, political action and abortion.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and politics. A former political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University, he wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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