WASHINGTON (SBG) — As President Joe Biden touts one of his biggest legislative victories to date, new polls suggest confidence in his leadership and his ability to address Americans’ problems is plummeting, creating new political challenges for the White House that passing major spending bills might not rectify.
Nearly 60% of Americans say Biden has not paid enough attention to the nation’s most pressing problems, according to a new CNN/SSRS poll, and 52% disapprove of his overall job performance. Among voters who deem the economy the most important issue, 72% believe Biden has had the wrong priorities, and 79% of those who consider the COVID-19 pandemic the biggest problem say Biden has not focused on the right issues.
Although voters still gave Biden’s party a slim advantage over Republicans in a generic congressional ballot matchup in the CNN survey, the numbers do not bode well for Democrats in next year’s elections. The 58% who say Biden’s priorities are off is similar to the percentage who said the same of former President Donald Trump in late 2017 and former President Barack Obama in early 2010, and they suffered severe losses in the subsequent midterms.
A Suffolk University poll conducted for USA Today offers an even bleaker picture for Democrats heading into 2022, with Republicans holding an eight-point edge on a generic ballot. In that survey, 59% of respondents said they disapproved of Biden’s performance, 46% said he had done a worse job in office than they expected, and 64% said they would prefer if he does not run for a second term in 2024.
A week after voters swung sharply against Democrats in key off-year elections, Biden faces an increasingly hostile political environment that threatens to derail his legislative agenda. Even the passage of a popular bipartisan infrastructure package late Friday night is unlikely to shake the public sentiment that the nation is careening in the wrong direction.
Democrats hope to follow the infrastructure bill with a $1.75 trillion domestic spending package that would launch several new social programs and deliver tax breaks and subsidies to middle-class families. In an interview with WKRC Monday, Biden downplayed his sagging poll numbers and signaled he has no intention of changing course.
“I didn’t run because of the polls,” Biden said. “I think what you’re going to see is the combination of what I did in the beginning in terms of the recovery act, and then this legislation, as well as the legislation we’re about the pass, god willing, on what’s called Build Back Better... I think all that is going to have a significant impact on ordinary Americans, the households I came from.”
Biden maintained his poll numbers are similar to other recent presidents at this point in their first terms, but recent surveys have shown his average approval rating lower than most of his predecessors 10months into the job, except Trump. Todd Belt, director of the political management program at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, said it is typical for presidents to lose some support once in office, but Biden’s slide will be difficult to reverse as long as Americans are struggling.
“People are exhausted with the pandemic and the effects it has had on the economy,” Belt said.
Biden acknowledged “a lot of anxiety” among voters, citing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the psychological scarring caused by deaths and disruptions of daily life over the last 20months. Positive economic data, including a rapid recovery in the labor market, does not appear to be resonating.
“Even though we’ve created almost 6 million jobs since I came into office, we’re in a situation where people don’t feel it right now,” Biden told WKRC.
The last 10 months have brought many unforeseen challenges that cast doubt on the president’s promises to restore stability and normalcy. Previous legislative accomplishments like the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan have not delivered lasting political benefits for the White House, and it is not clear if further spending will have greater impact.
“It matters if people are really going to feel it, if people are going to get the benefits, and Democrats are going to get credit for it,” Belt said. “There’s a few degrees of separation on that.”
While the Suffolk University poll found broad public support for the infrastructure package, only 47% of Americans backed the Build Back Better Act, and more respondents believed the spending bill would hurt their families than help them. Many of the provisions Biden proposed that once polled strongly have been stripped out or scaled back, and the benefits of some programs would not be felt until 2023 or later.
Other recent polls have suggested the public has little idea what is actually in the bill, and Democrats in Congress are still working out the contents of the final package themselves. Whatever Democrats are able to pass, they clearly need to do a better job selling it and convincing voters it directly addresses their needs.
“Rather than telling rural voters why they are wrong about inflation, advocates for the Build Back Better plan should acknowledge concerns about costs by telling people what is in the package for them – not just how much they plan to spend,” former Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp wrote in a recent CNBC op-ed.
While some of Biden’s current struggles may be rooted in muddled messaging and legislative gridlock, the latest polls suggest the economic reality Americans are experiencing cannot be discounted. Nothing the White House says is likely to matter much to voters if prices continue to rise, shortages of labor and supplies persist, and efforts to contain the pandemic falter.
“If you’re putting money in people’s wallets and it’s not turning into them saying you’re doing a good job, you’ve got a messaging problem,” Belt said. “But you can’t out-message what people are actually seeing in their bank accounts.”