News Update

The polls hold scant good news for Joe Biden

Biden’s approval ratings in year one declined precipitously over the summer, and held roughly steady in the mid- to low-40s through much of the fall. Some recent polling suggests they may be on the decline again, but there have been relatively few polls since the turn of the new year, making it difficult to determine the trend with any certainty. His current average approval rating is one point below his prior worst reading.
These numbers at the one-year mark of his presidency mean views of Biden are some of the worst for a newly elected president since pollsters began tracking approval ratings. Compared to previous presidents included in CNN or Gallup polling, Biden ranks next to last, with only his immediate predecessor, Donald Trump, ranking lower (40% approved of him in a CNN poll in January 2018). Still, the two other presidents whose end-of-first-year ratings fell below 50% both went on to reelection: Ronald Reagan, who stood at 47% approval, and Barack Obama, at 49%.
Views on Biden are sharply divided along party lines, as were views of Trump. Biden’s support among Democrats remains relatively high, though down modestly from when he first took office. Gallup’s polling over the course of the year, for example, shows a 16-point drop in approval among Democrats to 82% approval — about on par with Trump’s approval rating among Republicans at this point in his term. Among the opposing party, both Biden and Trump began at and held at very low approval ratings, each topping out at 12% approval.
The relatively new phenomenon of polarized presidential perceptions appears to have solidified in the last few years. Per Gallup, which has trends on first-year presidential approval dating back to Dwight Eisenhower, “The last four presidential years — Trump’s second through fourth and Biden’s first — are the four most polarized in Gallup’s polling history.”
But polarization alone does not explain why Biden’s numbers are so low. Here are a few other key data points on the hurdles facing Biden in the second year of his presidency.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans say things in the US are going badly. A CNN poll in December found that just 38% of adults feel things in the US are going well, while 62% say they are going badly. That’s a worse political environment than all but one facing a president at roughly this stage of their presidency in polling dating back to Jimmy Carter.
  • Americans don’t think Biden has the right priorities. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said that Biden has not paid enough attention to the country’s most important problems in a CNN poll in November (58%), and in December, large majorities said the US government wasn’t doing enough to address violent crime (76%), inflation (72%) or disruptions in the supply chain (70%).
  • Most people are worn out by the coronavirus. A Monmouth University poll in December found that 60% of adults feel worn out by the changes they’ve had to make in their daily lives due to Covid-19, and that the share who feel Biden is doing a good job of dealing with the coronavirus has dropped to 46%, below 50% for the first time in Monmouth’s polling. Biden’s ratings for handling Covid-19 have generally been better than his overall approval rating.
  • Although Biden’s legislative achievements are popular, few say they’ve had a large impact on their own lives. Polling has generally found broad support for the coronavirus relief package passed early in Biden’s presidency, as well as for the infrastructure bill that passed later in 2021, but relatively few say those accomplishments have made or will make a significant difference in their own lives. In a December NPR/Marist poll, most who received either the stimulus payments sent out earlier in the year or who received the expanded child tax credit that began in the summer say those payments helped just a little or not at all. And an October CNN survey conducted before the infrastructure bill passed found that only 25% said they would personally be better off under Biden’s social safety net and infrastructure bills. The social safety net bill has not passed. Overall, a December CNN survey found 54% said they disapproved of the job Biden was doing helping the middle class.
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