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The White House just put out a baffling Biden polling memo

CNN logo CNN 1 day ago Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
BURLINGTON, IA - AUGUST 07: Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks about White Nationalism during a campaign press conference on August 7, 2019 in Burlington, Iowa. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images) © Tom Brenner/Getty Images North America/Getty Images BURLINGTON, IA - AUGUST 07: Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks about White Nationalism during a campaign press conference on August 7, 2019 in Burlington, Iowa. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)

The White House wants to get something straight: President Joe Biden is unpopular. But he's not that unpopular.

Yes, really.

Witness a polling memo released Thursday night by deputy White House chief of staff Jen O'Malley Dillon that takes issue with a new Quinnipiac University poll that shows Biden's job approval at a meager 33%.

"This week's Quinnipiac poll, just like Quinnipiac's poll for the last five months, is very likely an outlier," writes Dillon.

As evidence, she cites the FiveThirtyEight running poll average (of all polls conducted) that shows Biden with an average job approval score of 43%. She blames Biden's low numbers in the Q poll on the higher-than-average percentage of people saying they "don't know" in response to the question of whether they approve or disapprove of the job Biden is doing." Concludes Dillon: "This is likely in part because Quinnipiac still exclusively uses a method called RDD (Random Digit Dialing, calling phone numbers at random) to collect data, a method which many major organizations have abandoned."

Which, maybe!

But, take a step back here. This is the Biden White House fighting to make sure that roughly four in ten people approve of the job the President is doing -- as opposed to one in three approving. Even if we take Dillon at her word -- and I think we should! -- then Biden is in rough shape politically.

Compare where Biden stands today to where his predecessors have been. Biden is at 43% approval in the latest Gallup monthly poll. At roughly this same time in their presidencies, here's where the last seven people to hold the office were:

Donald Trump: 37%

Barack Obama: 50%

George W. Bush: 86%


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Bill Clinton: 54%

George H.W. Bush: 71%

Ronald Reagan: 49%

Jimmy Carter: 57%

(All these numbers come courtesy of Gallup's Presidential Job Approval Center, which is an invaluable resource.)

With the exception of Trump, Biden is in the worst shape of any of them. And, of course, Trump's Republican Party lost 41 House seats and the majority in the 2018 midterms and Trump himself lost his bid for a second term two years later.

Which means that being in slightly better polling shape than Trump is nothing for Biden to brag about. A 43% job approval score, if it holds all the way through November -- and there is some evidence that this is not an exception but rather the rules for Biden at this point -- Democrats are very likely to lose the House and no better than 50-50 shot to keep their Senate majority.

So, why then, if you are the Biden White House, put out a memo that insists that the president is at 43% approval? Well, it's because 43% is a number that worries Democrats on the ballot in November, while 33% is one that incites full-on panic.

(It's worth noting that CNN's latest poll of polls, which includes the four most recent national polls on the President's job approval rating, has him similarly at 42%.)

With Democratic retirements in the House coming fast and furious -- and Biden's attempted to push for the Build Back Better Act and new voting rights legislation stalled -- the White House is in crisis mode, fighting back against the idea that the presidency is sinking and now is the time to jump ship. "

(Also worth noting: Talk of Biden's presidency imploding is rife these days; "Is Biden's presidency doomed?" asks historian Julian Zelizer in a CNN piece Friday.)

Hence Dillon's conclusion that "the President and Congressional Democrats will build on this progress in 2022, addressing price increases, mitigating supply chain bottlenecks, implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and making addition progress fighting the virus."

The shorter version of that pitch goes like this: Stick this out, it has to get better.

Which, I get! But man, you know you are in a dark place politically when winning is convincing people that the President is at 43%.

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