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NBC News poll: Biden ends first year as president with ‘bleak, discouraging’ marks from public

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 7:45 AM CST
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Exactly one year ago in his inaugural address, President Joe Biden championed unity, promised a bold governing agenda and prioritized defeating the coronavirus.

Yet as Biden begins his second full year as president, majorities of Americans give him low marks for uniting the country, being competent and having the ability to handle a crisis, according to results from a brand-new national NBC News poll.

What’s more, six-in-10 disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy, while more than half give him a thumbs-down on dealing with the Covid pandemic.

His overall approval job rating among adults stands at 43 approve, 54 percent – essentially unchanged from October’s survey. (Among registered voters, it’s 44 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove.)

But it’s the numbers beneath Biden’s overall approval rating that paint a grim picture for the White House, say the bipartisan team of pollsters who conduct the NBC News survey.

Biden’s standing among key parts of the Democratic base has eroded; just 15 percent of Americans strongly approve of his job performance, versus 43 percent who strongly disapprove; and only 5 percent believe his presidency has been better than expected.

“This poll would have to be described as bleak, discouraging and truly terrible,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

Added Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates: “A year into his presidency, Joe Biden’s standing with the American people is diminished, and he is a smaller figure than he was when he entered the White House.”

Biden’s first year as president has contained plenty of successes on the economy, on the coronavirus and on parts of his legislative agenda.

“We went from 2 million people being vaccinated at the moment I was sworn in, to 210 million Americans being fully vaccinated today. We created 6 million new jobs... The unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 percent,” he said on at his news conference on Wednesday.

“Now thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we’re about to make a record investment in rebuilding America,” he added.

But over the course of the president’s first year in office, his approval rating has dropped 10 points -- from 53 percent in April’s NBC News poll, to 43 percent now.

With just one exception (Donald Trump at 39 percent), it’s the lowest approval rating for a president ending his first year in the White House in the history of the NBC News poll.

Biden’s decline in approval has come from independents (from 68 percent in April to 36 percent now), Blacks (83 percent to 64 percent), those ages 18 to 34 (56 percent to 40 percent), Latinos (59 percent to 48 percent) and women (61 percent to 51 percent).

On the coronavirus and the economy

On the issues, just 44 percent of Americans say they approve of Biden’s job handling the coronavirus, which is down 7 points from October.

That’s compared with 53 percent who say they disapprove of his handling of the Covid pandemic.

Thirty-eight percent approve of the president’s handling of the economy, while 60 percent disapprove.

And just 37 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy and relations with Russia.

In addition, the poll finds 5 percent saying that Biden’s presidency has been better than expected, 36 percent saying it has been worse than expected and 59 percent saying it has been just as expected.

The 5 percent saying Biden’s presidency has been better than expected is the lowest for any president on this question going back to Bill Clinton in 1994.

And a plurality of respondents – 42 percent – say Biden is too unwilling to compromise; 23 percent say he’s too willing to compromise; and 27 percent say he’s found the right balance.

Grading Biden’s presidential qualities

Finally, the NBC News poll measured Biden on eight different presidential qualities.

His best marks come on being knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the job, with 44 percent of respondents giving him either a “4″ or “5″ on a 5-point scale – although that’s down from 55 percent who gave him high grades here a year ago.

His worst marks, however, come on being competent and effective (with 51 percent giving him either a “1″ or “2″), on having the ability to handle a crisis (52 percent) and on uniting the country (53 percent).

When NBC’s Kristen Welker asked Biden at Wednesday’s news conference whether the country is more unified today than when he first took office, the president replied, “Based on some of the stuff we got done, I’d say yes.”

“But it’s not nearly as unified as it should be.”

The NBC News poll was conducted Jan. 14-18 of 1,000 adults – including 650 contacted by cell phone – and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

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