Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.
Next week, President Biden will hit the one-year mark of his presidency. While Biden has overseen notable accomplishments in that time, such as the passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, other challenges have overshadowed those feats: Perhaps most significantly, the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has not subsided. The latest mutation of the virus, the highly contagious omicron variant, has led to a spike in cases as well as continued economic uncertainty, inflation, and supply chain troubles. Democrats have also struggled to pass key parts of Biden’s legislative agenda, including an ambitious $1.75 trillion social spending plan and voting rights legislation that would counteract 2021 laws passed by GOP-controlled state legislatures that make it harder to vote and easier to interfere in elections.
It’s hard to know how this all factors into Biden’s job approval rating, but broadly speaking, the public is dissatisfied. And it has been for a while now, too, as Biden’s approval rating has hovered in the low 40s for nearly three months, with roughly 42 percent of Americans currently approving of his job performance and 51 percent disapproving, according to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker.
Looking back at recent presidents, this development is particularly troubling for Biden, as he has the second-lowest approval rating of any president one-year in. Only Donald Trump, whose approval rating was in the high 30s, had a lower rating.2
In some ways, though, the fact that Biden’s approval rating has declined isn’t all that surprising. Most presidents have what’s called a “honeymoon period,” where their ratings start off high but slide as time passes. Former President Barack Obama’s approval rating was much higher than Biden’s when he took office (68 percent vs 53 percent), but Obama’s approval rating also steadily eroded, falling below the 50 percent mark after about one year in office. It’s not always this simple, though: Former President George W. Bush’s first-year approval rating surged in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In our highly polarized political environment, it’s hard to imagine quite the same “rally around the flag” effect — the coronavirus pandemic didn’t produce much of one, for instance. Yet as former President Bill Clinton’s approval rating showed, presidents can see an improvement after sliding significantly. A few things just need to go their way — in Clinton’s case, public sentiment regarding the economy improved, which helped his numbers recover, at least for a time.
That said, Biden will likely have to improve in areas that have long-hampered his administration in order to see his approval rating increase. Biden’s approval rating did markedly tumble last August after the Taliban captured Kabul in Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but that also coincided with the spread of the delta variant in the U.S. Moreover, prior to last summer, there were already suggestions of cracks in Biden’s support among almost every group of Americans, especially independents and Hispanics.
The biggest problem for Biden, though, might be his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While this was once one of Biden’s strongest issues, the public has steadily soured on his management of the crisis. In fact, according to FiveThirtyEight’s coronavirus presidential approval tracker, Biden’s approval rating on COVID-19 dropped below his disapproval rating for the first time earlier this week.
In the face of the omicron surge, many Americans are now even more pessimistic that the pandemic will be ending soon. Many states and communities have also reinstituted COVID-19 social distancing policies, such as mask mandates and remote schooling — the latter of which, polls suggest, has made few people happy. Economic concerns have largely worked in tandem with COVID-19 worries, especially inflation, which is the highest it’s been since the early 1980s. While the current rate is not nearly as high as it was then, ongoing inflation has notably jacked up the price of key goods, such as food and gas. Studies of presidential approval have found inflation often drives a decline in a president’s standing, so that’s probably a factor for Biden here, too.
It’s possible that some of these conditions will improve — the coronavirus pandemic has shown us time and again that its trajectory is often unpredictable. But any changes will likely take time, and in the short-term there isn’t a lot that’s positive on the horizon for Biden. Democrats’ legislative agenda is largely in limbo, with both their social spending plan and voting rights push looking like tall orders at this point. Of course, there’s no guarantee that passing either piece of legislation would boost Biden’s standing — after all, there was virtually no change in his approval rating following the signing of the bipartisan infrastructure package in November — but the fact that Democrats are in a legislative holding pattern has led to a lot of negative media attention.
How much of this is within Biden’s control isn’t straightforward. Some inflation may have been unavoidable as the economy got moving again following the pandemic-laden 2020. And many Americans refuse to get vaccinated, making it easier for a new variant to tear through a large portion of the population. But as president, the buck stops with Biden. The government arguably should have been better prepared for new waves of the coronavirus, with testing made more readily available for the public. And as leader of his party, the legislative program Democrats have pursued in fits and starts is partly on him, including all-but-impossible-to-pass Democratic-backed voting rights legislation. One year in, the public is unhappy with his performance and the state of the country, and that may only change if COVID-19 recedes and economic confidence rebounds.
Other polling bites
- The Centers for Disease Control recently shortened COVID-19 quarantine guidelines from 10 to five days, as long as infected people are asymptomatic. Despite some backlash from medical professionals, a new Morning Consult poll found that 53 percent of U.S. adults agreed with the CDC’s decision. Interestingly, though, those at less risk of dying from COVID-19 — women and young adults ages 18 to 34 — were less likely to support this decision (47 percent each), compared with men and adults 65 and older (61 percent and 58 percent, respectively). The poll was also sharply divided by household income: Less than half (48 percent) of those making under $50,000 a year supported the decision, much less than those making $100,000 a year or more (68 percent).
- One positive development from the pandemic is that telehealth services have boomed, especially for older adults. Sixty-two percent of adults age 50 or older said they’d used a telehealth service since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC poll. This is a sharp uptick in use from prior to the pandemic — and even from the pandemic’s first few months. In May 2019, just 4 percent of adults ages 50 to 80 had ever used telehealth services, but in 2020, 26 percent of this age group had used telehealth between March and June of that year, according to a University of Michigan poll from August 2020. But inequities still remain, with roughly one in five of those older than 65 and those over 50 without a college degree citing unfamiliarity with the technology as a “major reason” for why they still sought in-person services.
- It’s not just older Americans who find the digital world to be overwhelming. Americans are united in their concern over digital privacy — and in their feelings that they don’t have much control over it. According to a recent Ipsos poll, 70 percent of Americans felt that they now had greater difficulty controlling who had access to their personal information online.
- Europeans are overall supportive of the U.S. engaging in diplomatic negotiations with Russia to help avert the crisis in Ukraine, but they are less hopeful about whether that would reduce the risk of a Russian invasion, per a recent poll from Morning Consult. In fact, fewer than 50 percent in any country surveyed (Russia, Germany, France, the U.K., Canada and the U.S.) thought that increasing diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.S. would reduce the likelihood of Russia invading Ukraine. That said, a diplomatic approach was still by far the most popular option among the countries surveyed, including in the U.S., where support for diplomacy was the lowest, at 34 percent.
- While Americans still see medical professionals like nurses, doctors and pharmacists as some of the most honest and ethical workers, a recent Gallup poll suggests that their popularity boost from the pandemic may be fading. Between 2020 and 2021, ratings of honesty and ethics dropped by 8 percentage points for nurses and pharmacists, and 10 points for doctors. But most striking may be the sharp decline in approval for the military among Republicans. Republicans’ ratings of military officers have historically hovered around 20 points higher than Democrats’, but Republicans’ ratings have dropped 17 points since 2017, meaning they now view military officers just 8 points more favorably than Democrats.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,3 42.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 51.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -9.1 points). At this time last week, 42.9 percent approved and 51.7 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -8.8 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 43.1 percent and a disapproval rating of 50.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -7.6 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,4 Republicans currently lead by 0.6 percentage points (42.4 percent to 41.8 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 0.5 points (42.4 percent to 41.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 1.0 points (43.0 percent to 42.0 percent).
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