Economic worries hurt Biden’s endorsement, keep Democrats in jeopardy ahead of midterms: POLL
Economic discontent is hurting President Joe Biden and his party’s midterm election prospects, with six in 10 Americans reporting inflation struggles, three-quarters saying the economy is in poor shape and a lead of nearly 20 points for the Republican Party in confidence to handle it.
Biden has other issues, with submarine marks for his handling of the Ukraine invasion, a split on the pandemic and low scores on personal attributes including leadership, handling a crisis and mental acuity.
But 40-year high inflation is the source of his headaches: Americans are twice as likely to say they are worse off than better off under his presidency, from 35% to 17%.
See PDF for full results, graphs and tables.
The bottom line: A career-low 37% of Americans approve of Biden’s overall performance, with 55% disapproving. That includes just 30% approval among political independents and 10% of Republicans. Even in his own party, nearly a quarter of Democrats either disapprove of Biden (19%) or withhold judgment (4%).
Analyzing data going back to Harry Truman’s administration, only two presidents have had such low approval ratings before their first State of the Union address, which Biden delivers on Tuesday. Those two were Donald Trump, at 36%, and Gerald Ford, at 37%. Disapproval was higher, by an insignificant 3 percentage points, only for Trump. (More were undecided about Ford, then only five months in office.)
Biden’s fortune in turn spells trouble for his party in this poll, conducted for ABC by Langer Research Associates. Republican candidates for Congress have a 49-42% advantage over Democrats among registered voters, rising to 54-41% among those who say they are both registered and certain to vote in November.
The result among registered voters is very similar to what it was in November, 51-41% – as reported at the time, the largest Republican lead in voting preferences for the midterm elections in the polls ABC/Post dating back 40 years. In the new data, among independents registered to vote — often swing voters — GOP candidates lead by 14 points.
These results are supported by a change in partisan self-identification. In four ABC/Post polls from January to September last year, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by an average of 7 points. In November and again in this poll, on the other hand, it is an insignificant 1 point.
Consistent with voting preferences, 50-40% Americans say they would rather see the next Congress controlled by Republicans, to act as a check on Biden, than by Democrats, to support Biden’s agenda. Democrats led by 16 points on that metric heading into Trump’s midterm in 2018, when they won 40 seats. It now looks more like it did under Barack Obama in 2014 and 2010, when Republicans won 13 and 63 seats, respectively.
Seventy-five percent of Americans rate the state of the economy as not so good or bad, the most in ABC/Post polls since 2013. The public by a 3-to-1 margin says it has gotten worse rather than improved since Biden took office, 54-17% (others say it’s stayed the same). This number “has gotten worse” is more than double what it was when measured during Trump’s presidency in 2019 (22%) and 11 points higher than under Obama in 2012.
The personal impacts are also evident. As noted, only 17% say they are better off financially now than when Biden took office; twice as many, 35%, are worse off. A negative score on this measure reliably indicates political unrest since Ronald Reagan popularized the concept during his successful presidential campaign in 1980. Among other notable examples, it was negative for George H. W. Bush on the verge of losing re-election. in 1992, and damaging to Obama early in his presidency as the country struggled to emerge from the Great Recession.
Certainly, there is a political aspect to economic attitudes, especially when the president is mentioned by name. Fifty-four percent of Republicans say their situation has deteriorated under Biden; only 9% of Democrats go. But it’s 42% among independents, and among Democrats, just 33% say they’re better off.
Even with a relatively robust labor market, inflation is a singular irritant. Fifty-nine percent say it caused difficulties in their household; 30% of them call it a serious difficulty, rising to 43% of those with an annual household income of less than $50,000, a group that includes four in 10 adults. Biden is down 24 points among those with lower incomes since last June, compared to an 8-point drop among those with higher incomes. (In other groups, Biden dropped 21 points among young adults and 18 points among moderates.)
He has a 37% approval rating among all adults for managing the economy, matching his overall job approval; 58% disapprove, a steep hole of 21 points. More troubling for his party, Americans trust the Republican Party rather than Democrats to manage the economy by 54-35%.
Notably, Biden isn’t taking all the heat for inflation. Fifty percent assign him a great or fair amount of direct blame for it; more blame companies trying to increase profits – 68% – and disruptions due to the pandemic, 73%. Nonetheless, with 7.5% annual inflation on his watch, even indirectly, Biden is taking a backlash.
Other issues and attributes
The economy is the big problem, but not the only one, and on others the Democrats are doing less badly. Americans split 43-37% between the parties in confidence to handle the pandemic, a slight Democratic lead of 6 points, and 44-41% in confidence to handle education and schools, not a significant difference.
There’s also the matter of Biden’s personal attributes, which generally track his overall approval. Forty-three percent say they can be trusted in a crisis; 52% think not. Only 36% see him as a strong leader, down 7 points since the last measurement in the 2020 campaign; 59% don’t see it that way. And 40% believe he has the mental acuity to serve effectively, down 11 points from spring 2020; 54% think not.
Finally, given his problematic ratings, only 14% of Americans say they would be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate Biden has endorsed, compared to 32% less likely. That 18-point net negative score almost exactly matches the net negative impact (19 points, 18 vs. 37%) of an endorsement from another political figure — Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cell phone from February 20-24, 2022, in English and Spanish, to a random national sample of 1,011 adults, including 904 registered voters. The results have a sampling error of 4.0 percentage points, including the design effect. The partisan divisions are 27-26-40% for the full sample, Democrats-Republicans-Independents, and 27-27-39% for registered voters.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, NY, with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey methodology here.