Fresh off his party's better-than-anticipated performance in the midterm elections, President Joe Biden is facing consistent but critical assessments of his leadership and the national economy.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds 43% of U.S. adults say they approve of the way Biden is handling his job as president, while 55% disapprove. That’s similar to October, just weeks before the Nov. 8 elections that most Americans considered pivotal for the country’s future.
Only about a quarter say the nation is headed in the right direction or the economy is in good condition. Both measures have been largely negative over the course of the year as inflation tightened its grip, but were more positive through much of Biden’s first year in office.
Mishana Conlee said she tries to be optimistic about the coming year, but she thinks things are going to the gutter because “our president is incompetent” and not mentally fit for the White House. The 44-year-old in South Bend, Indiana, said she's frustrated about rising expenses when she's living paycheck to paycheck as a dietary aide at a nursing home.
"The more I work, I just can't get ahead," Conlee said. "That's just all there is to it."
She doesn't blame Biden for the state of inflation, but "I feel like he’s not doing anything to change it," said Conlee, an independent who voted for former President Donald Trump. Biden's "not doing us any good."
The Biden administration in its second year in the White House relished economic growth, a series of legislative wins and relative success for the president's party in the midterms. But that has yet to translate to glowing reviews from a pessimistic public.
"I don’t understand why his approval ratings are so low," said 56-year-old Sarah Apwisch, highlighting the administration's investments in infrastructure and computer chip technology.
Apwisch recognizes that it's been “a tough year” and that prices are higher, but she's hopeful because of the midterm results as a Republican-turned-Democrat who worries about the “Make America Great Again” movement’s influence on the GOP.
"We’re headed in the right direction," said the Three Rivers, Michigan, resident who works for a market research company’s finance department. She is eager to see Democrats press forward on a wide-ranging agenda, including codifying abortion rights.
Even as Republicans took control of the House, Democrats defied historical precedent to stunt GOP gains and even improve their Senate majority, which was cemented with this week’s runoff win for Sen. Raphael Warnock, the lone Democrat in Georgia this year to be elected statewide.
Glen McDaniel of Atlanta, who twice voted for Warnock, thinks the Biden administration has moved the country forward and weathered the economic storm as well as possible.
"I think that this administration has done as much as they can" to fight inflation, the Democrat said.
But McDaniel, a 70-year-old medical research scientist, also thinks the nation faces "social headwinds” that he wants Biden and the party to prioritize.
"I think that the Democrats can be a little bit more aggressive" in legislating on things like marriage equality, reproductive rights and voting reform, he said.
The poll shows majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike think things in the country are on the wrong track, likely for different reasons.
But Democrats have shown renewed faith in Biden, boosting his overall job approval rating from a summer slump. Even so, the 43% who approve in the new survey remains somewhat depressed from 48% a year ago and much lower than 60% nearly two years ago, a month after he took office.
Seventy-seven percent of Democrats, but only 10% of Republicans, approve of Biden.
While many Americans don’t entirely blame Biden for high inflation, AP-NORC polling this year showed Biden consistently hit for his handling of the economy.
As in recent months, the new poll shows only a quarter of U.S. adults say economic conditions are good, while three-quarters call them bad. Nine in 10 Republicans, along with about 6 in 10 Democrats, say the economy is in bad shape. Ratings of the economy have soured amid record-high inflation, even as Biden touts falling gas prices and a low unemployment rate at 3.7%.
Joshua Steffens doubts that the job market is as good as indicators show. The 47-year-old in St. Augustine, Florida, said he has been unemployed and struggling to find an information technology job since September.
"Even though they’re trying to claim that things are looking good," Steffens said, "in the trenches, it definitely does not appear that it’s so accurate."
Biden’s shopping and vacationing, captured on broadcast news, is "tone deaf," said the Republican, who called the president "a habitual liar."
Steffens said he and his wife are experiencing rising expenses for electricity and groceries, and relying on his wife’s income has "put a strain" on their holiday shopping. He doesn’t think Biden is handling high inflation well.
"If he has policies that he's trying to push through, then they’re not working currently," Steffens said.
The poll of 1,124 adults was conducted Dec. 1-5 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
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