Why hasn’t Biden felt the rally ‘round the flag effect?

It’s all about the economy.

The author(s)
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
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In times of external threat, we expect to see the presidential approval rating spike as the country ‘rallies around the flag,” unified around a common crisis. This occurred most dramatically in recent memory post-9/11, when George W. Bush’s approval ratings jumped and the nation mobilized for war in the Middle East. But we could find similar effects all throughout history.

It’s arguable that even President Trump briefly enjoyed something resembling a rally around the flag effect after it became apparent that the coronavirus had arrived in the United States, although that quickly dissipated.

So why not the same for President Biden during the Ukraine crisis?

  1. Downward trajectory. For Biden, it’s been a continued downward slope since the election, as his approval numbers drop from 60% all the way down to a low of 40% last week. The crisis in Ukraine is the most significant disruption to the status quo in decades, and Americans are generally in agreement that the US should take a firm stance against Russia’s aggression. Yet there’s been no corresponding surge in approval for Biden. Storm clouds on the horizon. Biden approval


  2. In context. One of Biden’s weakest points is how he is handling inflation, while he fares somewhat better on the Ukrainian conflict. Even so, less than half approve of how he is handling the Ukraine, while even fewer say that he’s done a “good” job there. Beneath these topline numbers, mixed partisan views is one of the primary drivers of these less than rosy figures. Detailed issue approval


  3. Inflation trumps all. While Biden might be performing relatively well on Ukraine, the larger problem is that ultimately, Americans are most concerned with the inflation and the economy. Although Ukraine has brought foreign affairs closer to top of mind than it has been in some time, it’s still a secondary, albeit related concern. Americans ultimately blame Biden for the pinch in gas and fuel prices. Biden’s solution?  To release strategic oil reserves to lessen the blow at the pump. Inflation focus


  4. Limited solutions. The trouble for Biden is that although his administration has been following through on what the public want, this hasn’t translated to an improved approval trendline. The good times are over, recapturing them won’t be so easy. Blame


  5. A closer look at the economy. The problems for Biden come into relief when looking at his approval rating on the economy over time. He’s been underwater since this summer. Inflation only amplifies Biden’s problem. What does this mean?   A Biden who is increasingly weakened numerically.  If inflation continues at its current pace, his numbers will not be going up; only down. Biden approval


In our era of hyperpolarization, the times when partisans were able to set their differences aside to unite around a common problem may be a relic of the past. At least, that’s what current perspectives on Ukraine would suggest.

The context does not favor Biden. The public’s new focus on inflation for COVID is not an equal trade; the latter played to Biden’s strengths far better. And as we can see above, the Biden administration’s efforts on the Ukraine crisis are largely a wash. All told, the 2022 midterms look increasingly bleak for the Dems as Biden continues to soften.


The author(s)
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs