Biden a Failure?

Some of his numbers are worse than even Donald Trump's.

President Joe Biden calls New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Wednesday, November 3, 2021, in the Oval Office Study. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

The American people are not at all happy with their President, the polls find. The new NPR/PBS/Marist survey is typical:

Rising inflation, a continuing pandemic, a foreign policy misstep in Afghanistan and Democratic infighting all marred President Biden’s first year, and now a majority of respondents to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll say his first year was a “failure.”

In all, 56% said Biden’s first year in office was a failure, versus just 39% who said it was a success.

What’s more, 54% said he’s not fulfilling his campaign promises, and 52% said he has done more to divide the country than unite it, despite uniting the country being a pillar of Biden’s 2020 presidential run.

As you might expect, the party breakdown is stark:

So, the good news for Biden is that the people he most counts on for support are mostly behind him, with a whopping 80 percent of Democrats happy and a mere 15 percent of them are unhappy. That Republicans are even more united in seeing his administration as a failure is not particularly surprising. But so-called Independents are two-to-one in the failure camp.

The president is clinging to just a 39% overall approval rating, a 36% approval for his handling of the economy and 47% for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Just 30% of respondents said they think the U.S. is headed in the right direction, days before Biden is set to give his first formal State of the Union address.

All are the worst marks of his presidency in the survey.

“These are sort of rock-bottom numbers,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. “It’s about as low as you’re going to see him [Biden].”

Again, this is what we’re seeing across the polling. Here are the RealClearPolitics trendlines:

Yes, it has a slight Republican lean. But the FiveThirtyEight gang is showing almost identical numbers:

Delving deeper into the Marist poll:

Topping Americans’ concerns in the survey is inflation, as 38% said they think it should be Biden’s top priority.

That far outpaces other issues, including the pandemic — which just 11% said they think should be his top priority — voting laws (11%), foreign policy (10%) and violent crime (10%).

The poll was taken before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is unlikely to help Biden. Indeed, his rating was already bad on that front:

Again, here, it’s bad news for Biden: Just 34% approve of how he’s handling the situation, while 50% disapprove.

And, obviously, he’s aware:

The pressing pocketbook concerns of Americans could spell more trouble for Biden if the Ukraine crisis deepens and it means additional pain at the pump.

“I know this is hard and that Americans are already hurting,” Biden said Thursday, after Russia’s invasion. “I will do everything in my power to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump. This is critical to me. But this aggression cannot go unanswered. If it did, the consequences for America would be much worse.”

While Biden bears some responsibility on the inflation front given the trillions that were poured into the economy under the so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the microchip crisis and other supply chain issues are largely outside his control. And, while he’s made some missteps on the pandemic, he’s largely been proactive. Not everyone agrees, clearly.

Seven in 10 respondents said they feel generally optimistic that the end of the pandemic is nearing. And while that optimism is potentially good news for Biden and the country, the president likely won’t benefit politically until inflation and prices come down.

Americans are split on Biden’s handling of the pandemic, which had been a strength of Biden’s through the first half-year of his presidency.

There is a significant gender gap — 53% of women approve of Biden’s handling of it, while 56% of men disapprove.

Presuming there’s not another wave and yesterday’s relaxed mask guidance remains in effect, one imagines that will redound to his benefit, at least with Independents. I don’t think there’s much he can do to move Republicans into his corner.

Biden is having real problems with three key groups — independents, suburban voters and a lack of intensity of support among his base.

1. Just 29% of independents now approve of the job the president is doing. In fact, the percentage of them who disapprove is more than double (64%) the percentage who approve.

That is particularly alarming for Biden, considering he won independents in the 2020 presidential election, and it continues a long trend of the crucial swing group sliding away from Biden in the past six months or so.

2. Just 38% of respondents who live in the suburbs approve of the job he’s doing, down 11 points from December. Critically, especially ahead of the 2022 midterms, he has seen a double-digit decline with suburban women in just the past two months, from 57% to 45%.

3. Compounding his problems, there is strong intensity of disapproval against Biden — about as high as the share who strongly disapproved of then-President Donald Trump. But unlike Trump, Biden is lacking in intensity of support.

In this survey, just 14% strongly approve of the job Biden is doing, worse than at any time for Trump during his presidency.

It’s simply baffling to me that Biden is polling worse than Trump on any metric. But, to the extent “pocketbook” issues are what’s driving the numbers, the economy is worse right now in almost every respect than it was in all but the worst part of the COVID crisis. Again, very little of that is under Biden’s control. But that’s the life of a President: you’re judged on the economy.

The good news for Biden is that we’re still more than eight months away from the midterms and almost three years away from the next Presidential election. That’s a lot of time for the economy to rebound.

Biden has a chance to gain back standing among these voters if they’re presented with an opposing choice in a potential reelection, Miringoff said, considering the president has seen slippage with groups that helped make up the coalition that elected him to office in the first place.

But one thing has become clear, Miringoff added: Biden’s efforts to try to win over Republicans has been a strategic failure.

“The Republicans are not for the getting,” he said.

That’s not surprising, of course, given the deeply polarized political climate although I did think there was some chance that Biden’s decency and personal relationships with Republican Senators could at least make a small dent into the problem.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    While Biden bears some responsibility on the inflation front given the trillions that were poured into the economy under the so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the microchip crisis and other supply chain issues are largely outside his control.

    If there was an actual inflation problem, we would expect to see corporate profit rates dropping as increased supply costs eat into their bottom lines. Instead, the profit rates for US corporations continue to grow.

    What we’re seeing is not a result of the stimulus, but rather corporations using supply shortages to hike up prices. We don’t have an inflation problem, we have a price gouging problem.

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  2. rachel says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Exactly.

    3
  3. Jen says:

    Americans are immersed in magical thinking, that presidents are capable of pixie dust fixes for a host of problems.

    All that polls like this show is the shallowness of understanding the general public has about economic and political issues.

    11
  4. steve says:

    “the economy is worse right now in almost every respect than it was in all but the worst part of the COVID crisis.”

    Really? Last I looked about a month ago I thought GDP growth was better, UE was better, Labor for participation was better. About the only thing actually worse was inflation. Stock market down a bit.

    Steve

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    American’s have become a bunch of toddlers who whine and cry when they don’t get what they want now. Yesterday I saw a poll regarding Ukraine and support for sanctions by Americans. Roughly 70% stated they supported sanctions on Russian, but that support dropped to 51% if it meant a rise in prices here in the US.

    Next we’ll hear some entitled twit blame Biden that his Porsche or Bentley is on a burning ship near the Azores.

    12
  6. MarkedMan says:

    The Republicans Southern Strategy has result in about 35% of the population essentially having the mind set of the antebellum South. They hate democracy, they hate equality and they live in bitterness and resentment. They are also rooting for the US to fail. Averaging these losers into any poll doesn’t provide anything meaningful

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    @steve: Thank you for that.

    And crime rates seem largely stable, after having fallen for a couple decades*. The exception, justifying scary headlines, is homicides, which seem to have risen significantly while overall violent crime has risen only slightly.
    _____
    * We could only ban leaded gasoline once (1996 nationally, 1992 in CA). Decline for a few decades to a lower ongoing rate is exactly what you’d expect from Kevin Drum’s thesis that lead pollution caused a lot of crime. The link between lead exposure and reduced impulse control is apparently well documented.

    6
  8. senyordave says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The year over year PCE number for January 2022 was 6.1%. That means American spent 6.1% more this year in January than last January. that number is huge (it is adjusted for inflation). Increasing demand does allow companies to increase prices, that’s part of running a business. Starbucks increased their prices rather sharply last year. Nobody needs to go to Starbucks, you don’t like their prices go somewhere else for coffee.
    Basic food costs and other essentials are a different story, but a lot of those price increases were due to basic supply chains issues. There is also a little matter of a huge supply in the money supply, which usually ends up contributing to a rise in inflation. There are two groups of people whose behavior I totally understand in terms of spending while inflation is at 7%+. The affluent, who are relatively unaffected by inflation, and the poor, who are forced to continue to buy essentials at whatever price is charged. The middle class? Personal savings has dropped sharply the last 6 months, and consumer credit is spiking. If you are struggling because of medical costs or you had to take a much lower paying job or other issues that’s one thing, but if inflation is hurting you because the latest IPhone is so expensive, TFB.

    2
  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @senyordave:

    I’m not saying it’s not a problem, I just disagree what the cause of the problem is, because the common narrative right now is just an excuse to justify cutting social supports and mistreating workers.

    2
  10. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: True. And the Dem Party would be well advised to recognize that that 35% is unreachable. But to get 50% nationally, Ds need to get 77% of the remaining, rational, population. They’re almost doing it, but that’s a hell of a hill to have to climb every election. There’s the apocryphal story about a backer saying to Adlai Stevenson “Every thinking person in America will be voting for you.” To which he replied, “But I need a majority.”

    3
  11. DK says:

    Biden is not without fault. But the media’s relentless negativity towards him — and its pretense that “wokeness” is as big a threat as Trumpism — has been unfair and unfortunate.

    Not mentioned is that Biden is underwater with youth. That explains some of the problem with independents, as these many youth do not identify as partisans. The “Biden is not keeping his promises” numbers likely includes a chunk of them.

    Biden could thus help his polling and perceptions — and provide economic stimulus, and help his party in the midterms — by partially canceling student debt as he promised in 2020.

    And I don’t know the reasons for the delay on ending Trump’s inflationary China tarrifs. But I guess his team does.

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  12. gVOR08 says:

    @senyordave: Top of the head numbers, inflation worldwide is about 5%, here about 7%. So at most the 2% difference could fairly be blamed on Biden. And we’re having a faster recovery than most. Seems to me that 2% is a reasonable price to pay for the recovery. But inflation is the greatest fear of the moneyed class, including the owners and editors of the MSM, so inflation will be a huge issue.

    A bit of trivia. In the great stagflation of the 70s and early 80s economists set out to see who was actually getting hurt. The famous fixed income retirees were getting cost of living increases and pretty much breaking even. Corporations were doing OK. Wealth was deflating, but nominal interest rates were high and the moneyed were doing OK. The great middle ( a lot larger then) was getting raises and doing OK. The only demographic they could identify that was really losing ground was college professors. So I’ll understand if our gracious hosts get a little worried.

    1
  13. becca says:

    I like Biden a lot. He has heart. I trust him. I have never said that about any pol before, but there ya have it. Polls, schmolls.

    I was going to say something about our failed media, but would rather focus in on the horrors that have become WH correspondents. Geez, I can’t listen because of all the gotcha questions these days. Everybody looking to make news of their own. Ick.

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  14. DK says:

    @gVOR08:

    But to get 50% nationally, Ds need to get 77% of the remaining, rational, population.

    I’m not convinced Democrats won’t approach 50%. History tell us midterm results often track with presidential approval. But increasingly hardened partisanship may be scrambling that.

    Biden’s unpopularity, if it persists, will no doubt drag on Democrats but maybe not as much as we think due to the opposition’s own unprecedented problems and divisions. The prevailing narrative might change if the GQP’s approval numbers were regularly polled and reported.

    In 2018, Democrats regularly posted generic ballot leads near or into double-digits. Now 538’s generic average consistently shows Republicans stuck with a lead between two- and three-points. And Democrats are regularly seeing small leads in generic polls here and there (polls ignored as they don’t fit the narrative).

    Republicans are likely to pick up seats and flip one or both houses of Congress, but it’s maybe not yet a slam dunk red wave it should be. Based on some of his recent comments, seems McConnell knows that.

  15. senyordave says:

    @gVOR08: The famous fixed income retirees were getting cost of living increases and pretty much breaking even
    One thing different about the current situation is that normally retirees have a much greatr share of their wealth in fixed income and CD’s. Because of the Fed’s inaction (I think Powell and the Fed has made protection of markets their main goal), the interest rates have lagged way behind. So retirees have been hurt this time around.

  16. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:

    I should be pointed out that homicides have grown against a background of loosened gun laws in many states. Other types of crime are either steady or continuing to drop.

    1
  17. DK says:

    @becca:

    I like Biden a lot…Polls, schmolls.

    Obama’s approval in the 2010 and 2014 red wave midterm years was 45-49ish%. His personal popularity didn’t save other Democrats in his midterms.

    Meanwhile, Trump clearly hurt Republicans in 2018.

    So who knows how this will all shake out in the privacy of the ballot booth? We are all just reading tea leaves in the shadows. Fun game for news junkies, but no one knows what voters will do yet.

    1
  18. Sleeping Dog says:

    @DK:

    Another thing to keep in mind regarding the mid terms is that the number of competitive seats has shrunk perceptibly with this cycle of reapportionment. In general Rs sought to fortify the seats they held rather than create slightly more competitive districts. That will be a drag on potential gains.

  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    Two words: Harry Truman.

    3
  20. Mister Bluster says:

    @senyordave:..Nobody needs to go to Starbucks, you don’t like their prices go somewhere else for coffee.

    Time for a plug.
    The local Panerra is open for inside dining again after a few months of intermittent closure including a six week stretch of drive thru only, if that.
    I call it the Coffee Club.
    It has been rebranded the Unlimited Sip Club as it includes Hot Coffee, Iced Coffee and Hot Tea.
    $8.99/Month plus tax.
    For me that costs out at about 33¢/day for all the mud I can drink and free internet access.

    Disclaimer. I have no financial interest in Panera other that when they are not open ‘Bucks and Dunkin’ bust my budget.

    1
  21. Kathy says:

    I’d say Benito merely lat the ground work for the deaths of over a million Americans (the trump pandemic is not over yet). Biden, on the other hand, cost people money.

    The former is a statistic. The latter is an unforgivable sin.

    In the minds of most voters.

    3
  22. Lounsbury says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Ah the Price gouging excuse and mythology, used by every economic illiterate and populist of Right and Left ever relative to inflation…

    Denialism that got the Left in trouble again and again with inflation.

    5
  23. Lounsbury says:

    @gVOR08: Why the Left continously is unable to learn that inflation is hated by lower income and lower middle income people really escapes. Turning to “moneyed class” Just So Stories is political malpractice (as in general if one is heavy in equity assets, inflation can even be a positive, but there is the incoherence in the Lefty economic illiteracy, it’s both the fault of companies for ‘price gouging’ for inflation and anti-inflation also the fault of the company owners).

    2
  24. DK says:

    @Lounsbury: Price gouging is occurring tho. Frankly, some CEOs are admitting it. Not the sole cause of higher prices as some would have it, but definitely not just a myth.

  25. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Their guy told them they were special.

    Their guy told them that they were the REAL Americans.

    Their guy lost.

    Then… their guy’s attempt to overthrow the US Government failed.

    OF COURSE Pres Biden is terrible and a failure !!!

    Simple as 2+2=7.3

    .

    (… he turned me into a newt!)

    1
  26. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Lounsbury:
    @DK:

    A good example of price gouging is the meatpacking industry. In the US, 80% of the market is controlled by 5 companies, so they effectively can act as a monopoly and a monopsony. At the end of the past quarter the industry reported profit increases of ~300%. At the same time retail meat prices had shown rapid increases and producers, farmers and ranchers were receiving near record low prices for their cattle. So profiteering does occur, but not all profit increases will fall into the category of price gouging.

    The remaining 20% of the industry is hundreds of small artisanal, kosher and halal butchers.

    3
  27. Lounsbury says:
  28. Lounsbury says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Incoherent Populist Just So Stories.

    Taking the assertion of market concetration at its face (as this item is better supported), it is absurd Just So explanation that market concetratoin that managed not to generate inflation over the 2008-2020 period is now Just Because the explanation of inflation suddenly in 2021-2022, rather than the actual evident economic data that rather clearly documents price pressures from logistics delays, demand excessed over production wrong-footed by unexpected sustained demand (thanks indeed to emergency pandemic support, avoiding the expected huge demand destruction), and massive system liquidty injection from those efforts – liquidity that was unusually injected up and down the income ladder in about every developed country.

    Of course “Price Gouging” is a wonderfully emotional and political term of zero analytical definition and without any objective standard. Populist emotionalism to avoid grappling with economic realities by erecting bogeymen. And to avoid grappling with the policy choices (or admit that your dear desired Spending Party punchbowl needs to be put aside).

    The American meat industry may indeed be subject to over-concentration and thus able to excercise pricing pressure that would not be available in a competitive market, but it is utterly empty to trot this out as the explanation of inflation for a condition that well predated the pandemic. (of course given the obesity in America, as well as the climate implications of meat production, pricing up meat to relative to other foods you as Good Lefties should support, were there any logical consistency)

    In the end Price Gouging is a empty political phrase used to dodge real decisions (or in the case of Biden it may be a useful political rhetoric to employ to buy time – understandable so long as the Biden team is not believing it’s own distraction rhetoric. Always the danger of that, believing your own AgitProp).

    2
  29. Sleeping Dog says:
  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK:

    by partially canceling student debt as he promised in 2020.

    I assume that you’re thinking of an executive order (or in the alternative that you actually have a supply of pixie dust to use for this issue). Have a question: Is the number of non-aligned young people going to outnumber the number of “the progs are going too far”s that such an order will alienate? If so, then I don’t know why he hasn’t done it either.

  31. Hal_10000 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Corporate profits were pretty high during the 70’s inflation. That’s what the prices increases do. The soaring profit margins are mainly because profits were so weak or even negative in 2020. It’s not like corporate greed was invented this year.

    1
  32. Hal_10000 says:

    Biden has another problem — an opposition party that is determined to sabotage the country in every respect out of pure spite.

    5
  33. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “Ah the Price gouging excuse and mythology”

    Hmmm. UPS, which has made record profits over the last year even after having given their drivers a substantial raise, has decided to revoke those raises, slashing pay by 20%… while profits keep rising.

    But no, there’s no price gouging or profiteering going on here! It’s all those damn lefties and their commie ideas!

    5
  34. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “In the end Price Gouging is a empty political phrase ”

    In that case, let’s just use the more accurate phrase “transferring all the economy’s assets to the tiny ownership class while beggaring everyone else.” That work for you?

    3
  35. Monala says:

    @DK: But Biden has partially canceled student debt, for those with disabilities and for those defrauded by for-profit colleges.

    I’m honestly not sure how much cancelling a portion of student debt for all debt holders might help him. It might win him a portion of the notoriously lax young adult vote, but it also might lose him some of the working class vote. Many of the latter may have never had the opportunity to attend college, have debts other than student loans that aren’t being canceled, and often have less future earning power than those with student loans.

    I would very much like to see something done about the interest structure on student loans to make repayment more affordable. I’ve heard enough stories of people who are underwater in repayment, even though they’ve already paid off the equivalent of the loan, simply because of interest.

    2
  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Monala: On those defrauded by for profit colleges, it was only students who defaulted. Students who kept current are on the hook for the whole nut still. I’ll find the article if you would like.

  37. Monala says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: well, that’s certainly not fair to those who have been paying! I’d argue for them to get some student loan relief, too. But I still think that across the board student loan forgiveness would be a hard sell for a lot of voters.

  38. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Monala: Oh, I’m fully aware of that. I hear lots of “nobody ever offered to…” in my part of the red universe. And not just about student loans. And yes, a lot of those complaining paid off YUUUUUUUUGE student loans. Some of those that I hear paid off as much as $20 or so thousand. [eye roll]

    1
  39. DK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Is the number of non-aligned young people going to outnumber the number of “the progs are going too far”s that such an order will alienate? If so, then I don’t know why he hasn’t done it either.

    Maybe. I’m guessing alienate-able voter is already alienated from Biden.

    It seems from polling Biden has lost ground with youth voters and liberals, and it appears student loan debt cancellation has outsized importance to this cohort (TikTok skits of “US govt says yes to subsidies/bailouts for rich corporations, no to student debt relief” might as well be their own genre.)

    Biden’s approval average is 40-41ish%.

    Is there a cohort within that 40% that’s still with Biden for whom student debt not being partially canceled is so important that doing so would drive Biden’s approval down to Trump post-Jan 6 levels?

    What is Biden getting from the status quo of not acting on student debt? Is not canceling student debt stimulating the economy? Helping young families? Generating favorable media coverage? Uniting Democrats and raising enthusiasm? Winning over rural and suburban voters?

  40. Monala says:

    @DK:

    Is there a cohort within that 40% that’s still with Biden for whom student debt not being partially canceled is so important that doing so would drive Biden’s approval down to Trump post-Jan 6 levels?

    Possibly. In 2020, Trump increased the numbers of African American and Latino working class men who voted for him. Not enough to make a difference in him getting reelected, but enough that some Democrats are worried that this might be a growing trend.

    When pundits have explored the reason for this change, they’ve come up with believing that some of the same appeals that Trump makes with the white working class, also work on working class men of color. For example, Trump proclaiming that he’s getting better trade deals for the US, or stopping immigrants from taking American jobs. Yeah, we know Trump is full of it, but to people who don’t pay a lot of attention to politics, what he’s saying might sound pretty good.

    Now tell those same folks who may be struggling financially and in all kinds of debt themselves that their tax dollars have to go toward paying off the degree of someone from an upper middle class family who attended an Ivy League school. Upper middle class families who are often very comfortable financially, but can’t pay out of pocket for a pricey college, so their kids still need student loans. Many of these young adults are doing things like working a crap service job while also interning. In a few years, they may be doing very well financially, or they may be working on a professional degree that will certainly pay off.

    You don’t think the Republicans can’t make hay out of this, and swipe some more working class votes?

    I’ll give you a 25-year example: back in the mid-90s, an anti-rent control measure was on the ballot in liberal Massachusetts. It swept away rent control, as voters were moved by the appeals of “working class landlords struggling to pay their mortgage, while their former student/now professional tenants are making big bucks but paying the same rent they paid as students.” Republicans in Massachusetts milked that town vs. gown resentment for all it was worth. And it worked.

    1
  41. Lounsbury says:

    @wr: While Lefty economic innumerates never are able to grasp such, Profits =/= Prices.

    Else the past 20 years of rising corporate profits in USA would have been aligned with inflation.

    They were not.

    And for simple accuracy, I have not stated there is an absence of anything (to extent Price Gouging means anything more than “Populist bleating and Just So Stories”, let one define it as uncompetitive price collusion).

    However the idea that there is no inflation ‘really’ and that some how an undefined “price gouging” by the the ever-hated-by-the-Left Businesses is nonsense and is merely party political denialism or Just So Stories of the data (Businesses whose owners incoherently Leftist Populist Just So stories are at once drivers against inflation and fore inflation via prices). Highlighting the degree this is irrational political tale spinning to avoid their punch bowls for favoured spending being taken away)