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The omicron variant’s seemingly inevitable spread in the United States could prove disastrous for President Biden, who has seen his pandemic approval numbers sink to negative territory in the most recent polling.
“The new omicron variant is a real threat to Biden’s standing with the public,” Ipsos president of U.S. public affairs Clifford Young told Fox News on Tuesday. “He won the election on COVID, surfed the COVID wave for the first part of the year and was hurt by the Delta variant. Omicron could further weaken the president heading into the midterms.”
Young’s comments came after the most recent Fox News polling shows Biden underwater by one point when it comes to his handling of the pandemic, with 48% of respondents saying they approve his handling and 49% saying they disapprove.
Although those numbers represent the president’s highest approval marks on any issue, they still stand in stark contrast to his rating earlier this year. Six months ago, Biden was in the positive on his handling of the pandemic by 30 points, 64-34%.
Young said he doesn’t believe that the new variant will present an opportunity to regain his standing in the eyes of the public.
“America has become more optimistic with anticipation of an end to COVID,” he said. “And any check on this trend will negatively impact confidence overall and in Biden more specifically.”
Young’s sentiment was largely echoed by David Barker, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.
“I would say that as long as COVID lingers on and people’s lives are being disrupted by it, that Biden’s approval will continue to take a hit,” Barker told Fox News on Tuesday. “And it will get worse over time. So if omicron turns out to transmit more rapidly and severely than Delta did — and especially if it resists the vaccines — Biden’s numbers will sink lower and lower.”
While Biden on Monday called the omicron variant a “cause for concern,” he cautioned that its emergence was no reason for Americans to panic and signaled he is against a new push for lockdowns.
“On Thursday, I’ll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter, not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more,” Biden said.
Barker said not pushing for lockdowns may hurt Biden with some of his supporters initially, but pushing for them would likely do more to harm his standing in the long run.
“In the short run, his numbers might get even worse if he then does not decide to shut things down again — because he will lose favor with people on his own side who currently support him,” Barker said. “In the long run, though, shutting things down will make him even more unpopular, because it would tank the economy again — producing the dreaded two-headed monster of stagflation.”
Barker also noted that passing massive stimulus legislation likely won’t be in the cards for Biden if the situation worsens, pointing to how inflation is already pressuring the economy.
“Those gigantic deficit spending bills helped the U.S. weather the economic fallout of COVID shutdowns better than the rest of the world, but are also partially responsible for the inflation pressure we are currently experiencing,” Barker said. “We just can’t deficit spend to that degree anymore.”
Barker’s sentiment on lockdowns was shared by Young, who didn’t think that Biden moving in that direction would help his numbers rebound.
“Lockdowns are a public health decision,” Young said when asked if Biden’s decision not to call for them could have been motivated by poll numbers. “But implementing them is more likely to hurt than help Biden numerically.”