by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Joe Biden finds himself far underwater with voters, facing foreign crises and increasingly scary inflation figures — all of which attract comparisons to America’s 39th president, Jimmy Carter.
Carter is perhaps the president most closely associated with high inflation, and thanks to a legacy that includes a stiff 1980 primary challenge and a decisive reelection loss to Ronald Reagan, he’s a president to whom no White House Democrat wants to be compared.
“High inflation and rising gas prices are economic numbers that make people nervous, which tends to bring down presidential approval ratings — all of that is similar,” said Robert Strong, a political professor at Washington and Lee University. “For both of them, Russia invaded a neighboring country. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, with very big consequences. Ukraine may be bigger, but [Carter and Biden] were both surprised by those Soviet/Russian actions.”
Of course, any comparison of historic figures is far from perfect, and Biden is in many ways quite different than the Man from Plains.
“Biden belongs to the group of presidents who are lifelong politicians, like Kennedy, Nixon, Johnson, and Bill Clinton,” said Strong, who authored a book about Carter’s foreign policy. “Carter belongs to a group that did significant things before embarking on a political career — Eisenhower, Reagan, or even Trump.”
Unfortunately for them, one key similarity the two share is low approval ratings. Carter started strong but went underwater by the spring of his second year in office, flip-flopped for the better part of 1978 and ’79, then went sharply negative during the election year of 1980, drawing a primary challenger in Ted Kennedy before the loss to Reagan.
Biden’s polling also slipped following a honeymoon period and now sits firmly underwater, with just 39% approving per the latest data.