Why is Biden losing support from people of color?

"With which demographic groups has President Joe Biden lost the most support?"PlayABC News Photo Illutration, AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough
WATCH Why Biden is losing support among voters of color | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

President Joe Biden is struggling in the polls one year before voters will decide whether to give him a second term in the Oval Office. And it's the Americans who were most supportive of him at the beginning of his term that have turned on the president the most.

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According to a basic polling average,* Biden's approval rating is currently at one of the lowest points of his presidency. But he wasn't always this unpopular. When he was sworn into office, Biden's approval rating started in the high 50s, but it dropped below 50 percent in summer 2021. That overlapped with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the delta variant of COVID-19, which seemed to put an end to Biden's honeymoon period.

Biden's approval rating continued to decline for nearly a year, bottoming out near 40 percent in summer 2022 as inflation reached 40-year highs. But it rebounded that fall, not long after the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned federal abortion rights. Still, the president's approval rating hovered in the low 40s through the rest of 2022 and through the first few months of 2023, and by this summer, it had started to sag again.

But with which demographic groups is Biden losing the most support? We looked at the crosstabs of his approval polls to find out. Biden's approval rating has consistently been highest among Black Americans and lowest among white Americans. But while white Americans have been lukewarm about Biden for a majority of his administration, the president is losing support at a faster clip among people of color. That's consistent with what other sources have found: The latest New York Times/Siena College polling found signs that Biden was losing ground among Black voters. And Democrats have been warning about signs of Latino voters turning toward the GOP for years.

Biden started his presidency with an 86 percent average approval rating among Black Americans, higher than any other racial group. But by July 2022, that number was down 23 percentage points, to 63 percent. That said, his approval rating among Black Americans — unlike the other three racial groups we looked at — did mildly increase ahead of the midterm elections. But since early 2023, it has dropped again to 60 percent, the lowest his approval rating has ever been among Black Americans during his presidency.

For pollster Terrance Woodbury, CEO of the Democratic-aligned polling firm HIT Strategies, the reason for that trend seems clear: "The difference between the precipitous drop that happened through 2021 and the stabilization that started in 2022 is, we started talking to [Black voters] again," Woodbury said. "When we campaign, they like what we say."

But for Woodbury, whose work focuses on Black Americans who are cynical about voting, the generation gap is the major concern. While younger Democrats of all races are more progressive and critical of Biden than their elders are, Woodbury says he's seen polling that shows it's "much more concentrated among Black voters." Part of the steep decline in young Black Americans' approval of Biden stems from the fact that their approval started out so high — it's "a higher bar to drop from," as Woodbury put it. "When I sit in focus groups with young Black voters and ask what [Democrats have] done to make their lives better, they're hard pressed to come up with an answer, despite this administration delivering on much of the Black agenda," Woodbury said. "That's the communication challenge that we have a year to overcome."

Biden's approval rating among Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics/Latinos followed the same general trajectory as his approval rating among Black voters, although he started from a lower peak. Among Hispanics and Latinos, Biden entered the White House with an approval rating of over 70 percent. That number declined through the rest of 2021 and through early summer of 2022, when it plateaued in the mid-40s, but it began declining again in spring 2023. Today, Biden's approval rating among Hispanics and Latinos remains on the decline, inching closer and closer to 40 percent, which would be an all-time low.

Among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Biden's approval rating started in the high 70s but steadily declined through his first year in office and into 2022. His approval rating with them held steady in the low 50s through the midterms and the first few months of 2023. Like with Latinos, though, it started to decline again this spring. Over the last few months, Biden's approval rating among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders dropped below 50 percent for the first time since he took office, and it looks like it's continuing to decline. However, there's an important caveat with this demographic: Crosstabs among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are sparse, and those that do exist typically have small sample sizes, so the latest drop might just be noise in the data. Plus, most public polling doesn't offer the chance to respond in languages other than English or Spanish, which means the voices of Asian American and Pacific Islander native speakers — who tend to lean more conservative than other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — might not be fully represented, according to Karthick Ramakrishnan, the founder of AAPI Data.

Democratic strategist Dan Sena homed in on the conflicting messages Hispanic voters have been hearing from the Democratic Party since the pandemic as a reason for Biden's struggles with this group. "Think about it just a little bit," Sena said. "The messaging was, 'Stay home, keep yourself safe, close the schools' — do all of these things, and yet there was a significant number of Hispanics that had to get up and go to work."

The sometimes conflicting Democratic messaging often centers around the economy, which seems to be driving dissatisfaction with Biden among people of color, although that dissatisfaction manifests differently for different people. "There's a level of anxiety [for Latinos] in the economy that is years and years in the making, that one term of [a] presidency or three years into a presidency isn't going to be able to undo," Sena said. "It's set in the backdrop of the pandemic, and that's why the cultural piece around this is so important."

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, meanwhile, have a wide range of reasons for turning away from Biden, including the Maui wildfires, but also other big-picture issues like gun violence in cities, according to Ramakrishnan. "For Asian Americans who may be doing all right financially, it's more about general economic performance than how it hurts their pocketbooks," Ramakrishnan said, adding, "And they may blame the president because they think of the president as responsible for the state of the economy overall."

Does this all mean that people of color are going to vote for the GOP nominee? Not necessarily. Even though Biden has suffered a decline in popularity among people of color, he's still more popular than the Republican alternatives. Among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Ramakrishnan said, "These are all gradations of left-leaning support." That means Democrats need to make it clear that the 2024 election is a choice between two opposing visions, not a referendum on the Biden presidency.

"It's not just about Biden's approval," Ramakrishnan said. "He doesn't own the entire election narrative."

Footnotes

*For consistency with the other analyses in this story, we're not using our topline Biden approval polling averages here; instead, we've calculated the line of best fit as a loess curve for the topline and each crosstab.