Except for former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden has the lowest approval rating of any elected president after one year in office. However, a glance across the Atlantic reveals that things can always get worse for Biden.
Boris Johnson, a Conservative Party member, is embroiled in a scandal involving parties held during Covid lockdowns. His approval ratings are as low as Richard Nixon’s when he resigned as President of the United States in 1974.
Johnson currently has a popularity rating of around 24% among Britons, according to various polls. (By comparison, Biden has a roughly 41 percent approval rating among US adults.) By both US and UK standards, the 24 percent is low. Aside from Nixon, Johnson’s popularity is comparable to that of two other US presidents: Harry Truman late in his second term and George W. Bush late in his second term. Truman faced a foreign embarrassment as well as a weak economy. Bush faced the same issue.
In the following election, both Truman and Bush’s parties suffered once-in-a-generation defeats. Their parties lost the presidency in landslides and suffered defeats in the House and Senate.
When leaders’ ratings fall to this low, something similar happens in the UK. Examine Ipsos data from 1977 to the present. Johnson’s popularity is currently lower than that of 93 percent of all prime ministers since the late 1970s. Gordon Brown was the last prime minister to be this unpopular in the late 2000s.
Brown’s Labour Party was defeated in the next general election, and he was deposed as Prime Minister. This has been a recurring theme in UK politics over the last 45 years.
Every prime minister whose popularity fell to Johnson’s level did not recover. They either resigned as prime ministers (as Tony Blair did) or were defeated in the next general election (like Brown or John Major).
Johnson isn’t resigning at this point, and the next general election isn’t for another two years. There is still time for him to heal. However, the pressure to resign may eventually catch up with him, as a number of members of his own party are already attempting to depose him. If a large enough number of Conservative MPs want to, they can depose Johnson.
Biden isn’t in the same financial situation as Johnson. While Biden isn’t as popular within his own party as he once was, he’s unlikely to face a serious challenge if he decides to run for president again.
Furthermore, Biden is aware that there is a long history of presidents who are as unpopular as he is improving their standing and actually winning another term in office. Ronald Reagan (in 1983) and Harry Truman (in 1946) were less popular later in their terms than Biden is now, but they both won the following presidential election.
Biden’s numbers could easily improve depending on how the country’s conditions change. His approval ratings have been almost entirely determined by the state of the economy and the coronavirus. Inflation, one of the major causes of economic unrest, is expected to fall in 2022. The United States is also creating a large number of new jobs.
Johnson, on the other hand, is unlikely to benefit from being pitted against such an unpopular opponent. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer isn’t popular, but his net popularity ratings are on par with, if not better than, Biden’s (depending on the poll).
Of course, in a general election, most voters will not be able to vote directly for Johnson or Starmer. They will vote for candidates from the Conservative, Labour, and other parties in their respective constituencies (or districts). Johnson is in worse shape than Biden on this metric. Johnson’s Conservative Party is trailing Starmer’s Labour Party in every credible poll. The average deficit is in the upper single digits. It is one of the Conservative Party’s worst positions in the last decade.
But perhaps the best way to compare Johnson’s and Biden’s situations is to recognize that both may lose the next general election, albeit in very different ways.
Biden may decide not to run voluntarily because he will be in his 80s by the next presidential election.
Johnson may be forced to resign as a result of his widespread unpopularity.