Joe Biden: Obama's Mr. Fix-It

Michael Catalini

Time after time, when President Obama deals with tough issues on his plate, Vice President Joe Biden has emerged as his designated point person, helping to shield him from political blowback. From the fiscal cliff to the stimulus, from tax negotiations to chairing the president’s anti-gun-violence task force, Biden has been front and center in negotiations with congressional Republicans and ideological opponents.

Most notably, his improvised support of gay marriage during the presidential campaign forced Obama’s hand in supporting the policy earlier than he wanted to –- even though it turned out to be a crucial element in rallying a restless base behind the president.

But for all his tough work, Biden has seen his job-approval ratings dip, with a January Pew Research poll showing it at 42 percent, about 10 points lower than the president’s approval rating.  Even as Biden’s allies are floating the possibility that he could run for president in 2016, his job-approval ratings would make such a task awfully difficult.

"When you sign up to be vice president your first responsibility is to support the president's agenda," said Mike Feldman, a former aide to Vice President Al Gore. "It's not possible to conduct yourself in a way that puts your own approval above being the most valuable asset you can be to the president."

On the fiscal-cliff deal that Biden brokered with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the vice president won praise in the media. But while 52 percent of Americans approved of how the president handled fiscal-cliff negotiations, only 45 percent approve of the agreement itself, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Biden and McConnell also worked out a deal to temporarily extend the Bush tax cuts in 2010.

In addition, Biden's status as an insider isn’t exactly the best way to endear himself to the voters, who are looking for fresh faces and outsiders without much political experience. Just 26 percent of Americans are more likely to back a candidate who has been in Washington for many years, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

It was in 2009 that, according to Gallup, Biden's approval ratings began a steady dip, dropping from 59 percent to 42 percent over the year and hovering at about that level since. But while the dip coincides roughly with Obama’s own struggles, the president has seen his numbers rise again.  Biden has received no such postelection bounce.

"Given the way he's done the job, these kinds of ratings come with the job, especially in these polarized times," said Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates and a Democratic pollster. "The alternative is for vice presidents to be very low profile, not really to make a strong impression on the public."