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Ben Roback is Vice President of Public Affairs at Sard Verbinnen & Co.

War abroad. Economic pain and legislative stagnation at home. The White House can’t control it all, but voters are punishing the president for issues within and beyond his control.

In times of crisis, political leaders look for signs of optimism. For Joe Biden’s White House, they are few and far between, and the warning signals are flashing ahead of midterms in November and the presidential election in 2024.

Take a whistlestop tour around the world. The global economy is reeling from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sending wholesale energy prices and the cost of raw materials skyward. The World Bank has slashed its forecast for global growth in 2022 from 4.1 per cent to 3.2 per cent.

Supply chains that were already choking are now on the verge of collapse. Covid refuses to disappear, and its ongoing presence is exacerbated by flawed and failing “zero covid” strategies.

Voters might be minded to give the president a pass for global problems beyond his control. After all, the White House has only a limited capacity to shape a labyrinth of geopolitical affairs, just as Donald Trump could not have been fairly or squarely blamed for the outbreak of novel virus in a provincial Chinese market.

Should we therefore take the latest presidential approval ratings with a pinch of salt?

Four polls in the last week ranged from the low-30s to the low-40s for presidential approval rating. In the polls by Quinnipiac University, Hart and CBS News, Biden was lowest or tied for lowest presidential approval rating. He is now closely tracking Trump, who routinely broke new ground in presidential unpopularity.

Giving the President the benefit of the doubt would make sense if he was underperforming abroad but overperforming at home. Neither are true.

In the United States, inflation has hit a four-decade high, and the Federal Reserve is considering an aggressive pullback of the kind of support it injected into the economy during the pandemic. Goldman Sachs put the odds of a US recession at 15 per cent in the next 12 months.

Energy and petrol prices are both soaring, and opposition Republicans have waged an effective campaign that lays the blame at Biden’s door. Gun violence, to which we have all become depressingly accustomed, continues to rage without any sign of political intervention.

That is not to say Biden’s presidency has been a failure. But big promises made in the general election on societal changes like police reform and expanding voting rights have stalled furthering the notion that this is an administration that’s lost its way.

The legislative agenda gives deeper cause for concern

Democrats may try to convince themselves that legislative progress is being stalled in Washington and political oxygen sucked up by complex foreign affairs. Voters cn be forgiving of legislative inaction on the kind of societal changes on which Biden campaigned based on the deep-rooted unpopularity of a deeply divided Congress and largely inept political class in Washington.

“Not getting things done”, in this view, is a curse on all political houses.

But if the legislative agenda is a tide, then it is increasingly turning against Democrats. On three key policy areas, Republicans are dictating the direction of travel and setting the terms of the November midterms and 2024 presidential election.

Abortion access is under genuine threat from Republican state lawmakers and governors who are hell bent on using their local power to limit freedom of choice. It sets the tone for a nationwide discussion in the coming weeks on Roe v Wade when the United States Supreme Court rules on a controversial Mississippi law that directly challenges the landmark 1972 legislation.

On education, Republicans are successfully driving policy at the state level. Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governorship by putting education policy and parental rights at the heart of his campaign.

Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to do the same in Florida through the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. The Sunshine State has just rejected 41 per cent of new maths textbooks citing critical race theory as a principal reason.

Democrats continue to struggle to coalesce around a response and it looks increasingly like they are ceding the education and parental rights debate entirely.

On immigration, voters are weary of a porous southern border. Nine Democrats have now publicly expressed opposition to the White House’s current policy position to end the use of Title 42 authority to deny asylum claims at the US-Mexico border by next month.

Immigration is a ripe campaign topic for Republicans when Democrats are in opposition. The controversy surrounding Title 42 deeply endangers Democratic incumbents in states that could decide the Senate majority in November.

Warning lights flashing for November 2022 and 2024

Voters might give Biden a pass for the global context shaping domestic politics and economics, but there is no political excuse for failure on kitchen table issues like crime and the economy.

Safety on the streets and enough money for petrol in the tank and food in the shopping basket are simple to understand, not intricate foreign wars.  Fail to get on top of both and the Democrats will not only face wipe out in the November midterms, but they can also kiss the White House goodbye in 2024.

The President is posting record lows for his tenure and closely tracking Trump, his historically unpopular predecessor. Popularity is down amongst Hispanics, African Americans and young voters.

Covid is on the decline in the United States and the White House has an historic Supreme Court nomination on which to campaign. But if the current pattern continues, punishment for the Democrats in November 2022 and 2024 looks increasingly inevitable