Breaking: Country Polarized

And Biden approval down.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the passing of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Tuesday, August 10, 2021, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Gallup has the numbers, which will not be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention: Biden Year One Approval Ratings Subpar, Extremely Polarized.

During his first year in office, an average of 48.9% of Americans approved of the job President Joe Biden was doing. Biden’s job approval ratings started relatively strong at 57%, but by September had plunged to 43%. A new Gallup poll finds 40% of U.S. adults approving of the job he is doing, his lowest to date.

Among post-World War II presidents elected to their first term, only Donald Trump had a lower first-year average rating, at 38.4%. Bill Clinton’s first-year average was similar to Biden’s, but all other first-year presidents averaged 57% or better.

The piece has a table with the relevant historical data.

It should be no surprise that the current president is in a similar boat to the previous one: we are in an era of sharp partisan polarization wherein the baseline should be to assume that at best over 40% of respondents will not approve of the sitting president simply because of partisan positioning. Throw in a continuing pandemic, with a number of social and economic implications (not the least of which being significant inflation), and a subpar approval is hardly a surprise.

After all, the approval rating is a combination of measuring general partisanship and a proxy for how people feel things are going in the country. If we look via partisan ID, we see that everyone is less satisfied, but that the shift in GOP approval is less the mover of the overall numbers (after all, 89% of them disapproved a year ago). There has been a not insubstantial decline from Democrats and a fairly decline from Independents.

The numbers show substantial polarization:

Biden’s extremely low approval ratings from Republicans throughout 2021, and the extremely high ratings from Democrats, led to levels of political party polarization beyond any for a first-year president and only exceeded once previously in any presidential year.

On average during his first year as president, Biden averaged 91% approval among Democrats, 46% among independents and 8% among Republicans. The average 83-percentage-point Democratic-Republican gap exceeded that for prior first-year presidents by a significant margin.

I suspect this pattern will continue into the foreseeable future. Indeed, note recent history:

The last four presidential years — Trump’s second through fourth and Biden’s first — are the four most polarized in Gallup’s polling history. The last seven presidential years — including Obama’s last two years and Trump’s first — rank among the nine most polarized presidential years, along with Obama and George W. Bush’s fourth years, when both were seeking reelection.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Fox News debuted in 1996.
    I’d love to see a graph of polarization since then.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    The degree of partisanship makes presidential approval polls useless, if they ever had meaning to begin with. Pretty much we can dismiss the opinion of the Rs and independents who are R is everything but name and focus on Dems and that small group of swing voters, perhaps 7% that truly do vote for the candidate and not the party.

    Among the Dems, there are many disappointed liberals that Biden hasn’t delivered a new New Deal, a new Great Society and the Green New Deal. I guess they could stay home, but they’ll vote for Biden or whoever the Dem is 24. Blacks, understandably, are upset about voting rights, but will they stay home when the likely R candidate is proudly a white supremacist? Then we have Latinos who seem to be rejecting what Dems are selling.

    Traditional Dems will come home and vote for whatever Dem runs in 24 and that candidate will be fighting over the 7% and hopefully stanch the erosion among Latinos.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I agree completely. But the poll numbers feed the media drumbeat of “Biden Failing” which may well become a self fulfilling prophecy. The supposedly liberal MSM thrive on drama and conflict, to the point they invent it.

  4. Dude Kembro says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Yes, you’re right, boogeymen like Trump will get most Democratic-leaning voters to the polls, but we need *all* such voters to save democracy, given how the US electoral system currently favors the Republican minority.

    Many Dems and Dem-leaners, especially young liberals who feel increasingly hopeless, will not show up in 2022 in 2024 if they remain dissappointed and disconnected. We saw it in the 2021 elections.

    Democrats cannot afford to leave any votes on the table. Record youth voter turnout helped fuel Democratic wins in 2018 and 2020. There’s an easy win to help get those voters back, right there for Biden to take: cancel the small sliver of student loan debt that’s within his unilateral purview. This move has the added benefit of being a true people’s stimulus.

    I agree with Bernie (hell freezing over), Warren, other Senators, and the coalition of unions calling for Biden to do this now. The longer he waits, the less principled and more desperate the decision would look.

    Not optimistic that it will happen. Republicans will do anything to win, Democrats won’t.

  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Shorter version of SLT’s post;
    Over 70% of Republicans actually believe things that are JUST NOT TRUE.
    For instance, that Biden was elected illegitimately.
    These delusions are encouraged and nurtured and fed by party leadership.
    The partisan gap, and the far worse thing that it portends, are only going to get worse.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    …far worse *things*…

  7. Scott F. says:

    Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
    H. L. Mencken

  8. CSK says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    The polarization is as bad as I’ve ever seen it. Even the sixties lacked the current seething hatred.

    I do believe that forums such as have encouraged this trend. Before the Internet, there was no way for thousand of people around the country, strangers to each other, to gather and fuel one another’s rage.

  9. Kathy says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Over 70% of Republicans actually believe things that are JUST NOT TRUE.

    Two words prove this has been going on for a while: trickle down.

  10. @CSK:

    Even the sixties lacked the current seething hatred.

    Keep in mind the in the 1960s the Democratic Party was a larger, more inclusive grouping that including most southern conservatives. By definition partisan polarization was lessened as a result.

  11. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    That’s a good point, and I’m aware of it. If memory serves, it was at that point that the Republican Party started appealing to blue-collar voters, because even then the Democratic Party, certainly here in the north, was becoming more and more associated with anti-Vietnam war sentiments, and hence, anti-American sentiments. Thus Spiro Agnew speaking of “an elite corps of impudent snobs.” If you hated the Vietnam war, you hated America and all it stood for.

    These divisions have been growing for a long time. But again, they seem to me to be sharper today than I’ve ever before witnessed.

  12. EddieInCA says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Then we have Latinos who seem to be rejecting what Dems are selling.

    Many Latinos are immigrants from countries that had dictators and “socialism”. My parents are one such example. Socialism is a very, very bad word for Latinos. Yet Dems ignore that at their own peril. AOC and Bernie are doing Dems no favors mentioning “socialism”, regardless of the context.

  13. Dude Kembro says:

    @CSK: This “seething hatred” is an extremely online phenomenon. There are sharp political differences, but in real life the vast majority of Americans seem to get along okay.

    Everything is amplified online, and on occasion extremely online people get carried away and do shocking things in real life. But politics and political division doesn’t really dominate most people’s thoughts.

  14. CSK says:

    @Dude Kembro:
    That’s true, but don’t discount the importance of forums and social media in enabling the hatred, and providing the opportunity to organize around it. These things didn’t exist until about 20 years ago, and, from what I can tell, they’re getting worse.

  15. Sleeping Dog says:


    Yes, the history of socialism and Latinos is hardly one any member of the group would want to replicate.

    After the 2020 elections, I wondered about why TFG did well with Latinos in some states favored Dems, AZ & CA while in others, FL & TX, R’s made in roads. What I came up with was, in Fl it was the experience with socialism and between Bernie, AOC and R branding of Dems, Dems became toxic. Latinos in AZ and CA had experience with the R state governments actively repressing the population, while in TX, Latinos are embedded in the states culture and local Rs have outreached to the interest group. No idea on NM.

  16. John430 says:

    …because of partisan positioning. Throw in a continuing pandemic, with a number of social and economic implications (not the least of which being significant inflation), and a subpar approval is hardly a surprise.

    You left out today’s gem wherein Biden said “minor” Russian excursions in Ukraine were OK.
    He is failing mentally, and even the left wing support of the media is no longer able to shield him. If you ignore that then you and I will see the collapse of democracy because the crazies like AOC ,
    Pressley and Tlaib will be unstoppable.

  17. John430 says:

    @EddieInCA: Down here in south Texas we are already asking : “Will the last Latino Democrat leaving the Rio Grande Valley please turn off the lights?”

  18. @John430: So how big of a war are you willing to fight to stop Russian incursions into Ukraine?

    This is the central question.

  19. John430 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Fear not, Chicken Little. Biden backtracked and Reuters is reporting Biden saying he and Europe would respond with a “severe and coordinated economic response.”

  20. @John430: That is an utter nonanswer (and misapplication of Chicken Little–indeed, I am not the one saying that the sky is falling here).

    It is a fair question that you did not answer: how big of a war are you willing to fight to stop Russian incursions into Ukraine?

  21. John430 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’ve seen that question before, and will bet your answer will be like others heard in 1940’s Europe. Why bother? They’re only Jews. We know how that turned out. Being dismissive of a people is typical of the leftist tilt this blog has taken.

  22. @John430: You are, again, refusing to answer.

    They’re only Jews.

    An interesting, and unnecessary escalation.

    If you are honestly willing to go to war over Ukraine, why don’t you just say so?

    And if you think Putin and Russia are modern-day analogs of Hitler’s Germany, then make your case.

    Don’t be glib and accusatory. Make an argument.

  23. And I think you really need to rethink your deployment of Chicken Little.

  24. John430 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I could go to war over Ukraine. Ditto if Israel was in danger. I’ve worn my country’s uniform once before and would do it again, if called. BTW: I’m a senior citizen now, but still…

  25. @John430: I appreciate you staking out at least a general position.

    I would note that it is still pretty vague, but it is an answer.

    I will state that while I suppose there is some scenario in which a war could be justified, going to war with Russia over Ukraine would be highly foolish in my view, costing far more in lives and destruction than it would be worth (to include, very specifically, the lives of Ukrainians). Wrecking Ukraine and having thousands die to defend it might very easily be worse than Russia wholesale taking over the territory.

    There would also be profound costs to the global economy and to the US. I suspect you would object to more social spending on health care, but are you really willing to pour money down the hole of a war with Russia?

    How much of the global economy, and of Ukraine itself, are you willing to break to keep Russia out?

    What would be the consequences of such a war for the Baltic states? And if the Baltic states were attacked, that would require NATO action, as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are NATO members.

    Are you up for a war across Europe to protect Ukraine from “danger”?

    Keep in mind, my preference is for Ukraine to be free, to develop democratically, and for it to do what it wills, including joining NATO.