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Americans give Biden mostly positive marks for first 100 days, Post-ABC poll finds

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden view fireworks celebrating his inauguration from the Blue Room balcony at the White House on Jan 20. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Biden nears the end of his first 100 days in office with a slight majority of Americans approving of his performance and supporting his major policy initiatives, but his approval rating is lower than any recent past presidents except Donald Trump, with potential warning signs ahead about his governing strategy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Overall, 52 percent of adults say they approve of the job Biden is doing, compared with 42 percent who disapprove. At this point in his presidency four years ago, Trump’s rating was nearly the reverse, with approval at 42 percent and disapproval at 53 percent. Overall, 34 percent of Americans say they strongly approve of Biden’s performance, compared with 35 percent who strongly disapprove.

Biden receives the highest marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with 64 percent of adults — including 33 percent of Republicans — giving him positive ratings. His approval rating for his handling of the economy stands at 52 percent. But 53 percent say they disapprove of the way he has dealt with the immigration situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, a problem that has vexed his administration for much of its first months.

Read Post-ABC poll results and how the poll was conducted

Although his first sizable initiatives enjoy majority support, the poll also finds that by 2 to 1, Americans say that Biden should be willing to make “major changes” to his proposals to win Republican support, rather than trying to enact proposals without making major changes and getting no backing from congressional Republicans.

In another caution for the president, a slim majority of Americans — 53 percent — say they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned that Biden will do too much to increase the size and role of government. Overall, Americans are almost evenly split on whether they favor a smaller government with fewer services (48 percent) or a larger government with more services (45 percent).

That finding does, however, represent a shift in public opinion that existed between 1992 and 2012, when at least half favored smaller government.

The 2020 presidential election and its acrid aftermath, during which Trump falsely insisted that the election had been stolen and that it was marred by widespread voting irregularities, left the country deeply divided. The new poll provides ample evidence that those divisions have not lessened during the early months of Biden’s presidency.

For example, 78 percent of Republicans say they strongly disapprove of the way Biden has handled his job, which is slightly higher than the 72 percent of Democrats who strongly disapproved of Trump at the same point in 2017, and also far higher than the 43 percent of Republicans who strongly disapproved of President Barack Obama’s performance in April 2009. At no point during Obama’s first three years in office did strong disapproval among Republicans reach its current level.

Former vice president Al Gore says President Biden has had the “strongest start in his first 100 days of any president since FDR.” “I think they’re hitting on all cylinders, they’ve appointed an A+ team, they are really hitting it out of the park every single week. And I think that by itself is also going to help to restore some of the trust in our government, in our institutions and in our ability to restore the health of American democracy.” (Video: Washington Post Live)

The poll also shows a record divide between the parties in views of Biden ahead of the 100-day mark, with 90 percent of Democrats approving of his performance compared with 13 percent of Republicans. Biden’s approval among fellow Democrats is six points higher than Trump’s rating was among Republicans four years ago, while the two presidents’ ratings among those in the rival party are identical (13 percent). Among independents, Biden’s approval rating of 47 percent is nine points better than Trump’s 38 percent four years ago.

Although there are signs that the economy is improving, a majority of Americans — 58 percent — rate the economy negatively, while 42 percent rate it positively. That’s statistically unchanged from the findings of a Post-ABC poll in late September.

But in another sign that opinions about the country’s condition are substantially shaped by party allegiance, the views of Democrats and Republicans have flipped with the change in administrations. Today, 49 percent of Democrats rate the economy positively, up from 18 percent in September. Meanwhile, 35 percent of Republicans give the economy positive marks today, compared with 69 percent who said that seven months ago.

The president’s first major initiative was a nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, approved by Congress on party-line votes. Despite the divisions among lawmakers, the American Rescue Package receives strong public support, with 65 percent saying they back the plan compared with 31 percent opposed. Just over 9 in 10 Democrats support it, as do 1 in 3 Republicans and around 6 in 10 independents. The poll finds that Republicans with incomes below $75,000 are considerably more supportive of the package than are those with higher incomes.

Biden’s newly proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which has not been acted upon by Congress, receives less support than the covid stimulus package, with 52 percent saying they favor it and 35 percent opposed. Broken down by party identification, 82 percent of Democrats, 51 percent of independents and 17 percent of Republicans give the measure their support. Unlike the stimulus package, there is little variation among Republicans based on their income.

Biden has proposed paying for the infrastructure plan by raising the corporate tax rate, which once stood at 35 percent but was lowered to 21 percent during Trump’s presidency. Biden has recommended that it be raised to 28 percent, and the new poll shows that 58 percent of Americans say they support the increase. Again, views are partisan: More than 8 in 10 Democrats back the increase, while 2 in 3 Republicans oppose it. A narrower majority of independents say they support the 28 percent figure.

Biden pledged in his inaugural address to try to unify the country and has often expressed willingness to negotiate with Republicans over the detail of his proposals. But on the economic stimulus package, he held firm on the overall size and most of the specifics of his proposal, arguing that it was bipartisan because voters from both parties backed it. He recently met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss the infrastructure package; while he indicated some openness to negotiation, he has not agreed to any changes.

Not surprisingly, a huge percentage of Republicans say Biden should be willing to compromise to win bipartisan support from lawmakers for his proposals. But the poll also finds that about 4 in 10 Democrats and 2 in 3 independents favor a compromise settlement rather than having the president resist changes and enact his legislation without Republican support.

Although Biden’s approval rating is notably higher than Trump’s was at this point four years ago, support for his job performance — which is a net positive of 10 points — ranks far below other past presidents.

Obama was 43 points net positive near the end of his first 100 days. George W. Bush had a net positive of 31 points. Bill Clinton, at net positive 20 points, was the lowest of the six presidents who preceded Trump, who was a net negative 11 points. Ronald Reagan had the best rating, a net positive of 54 points, followed by George H.W. Bush at 49 points and Jimmy Carter at 45 points. Those three all governed during a less polarized era of American politics.

As Biden pursues his overall agenda, the border and immigration loom as soft spots. While there are significant differences in his approval ratings on this issue among Democrats, Republicans and independents, the falloff from his ratings on the pandemic are sizable among all three groups. For example, there is a 28-point drop among Democrats in rating Biden on the pandemic versus the border. Among Republicans, the falloff is 23 points, and among independents, 31 points.

A related pattern exists on the comparison between support for the covid relief package and the infrastructure initiative. Democratic support for the stimulus package is 10 points higher than for infrastructure. Among independents it is 11 points higher and among Republicans it is 16 points higher.

In early March, Biden officials said that migrants should not come to the U.S. border “now.” Less than one month later, the White House says don’t come at all. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

The debate over the size and role of government, which has been resurrected during discussion of the Biden plans, has raged for decades, through administrations headed by both major parties. The shift in the direction of a larger government with more services is due largely to changes among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, with 70 percent of this group today saying they want a larger government providing more services, up from 58 percent in 2012. Republicans’ views have not budged, with 79 percent preferring a smaller government now vs. 81 percent in 2012. (The question was not asked between 2012 and this poll.)

Perceptions of Biden’s ideological leanings have changed markedly since the early months of 2020. About half of all Americans — 48 percent ― now say his views on most issues are “about right,” while 40 percent say they are too liberal and 7 percent say they are too conservative. Those findings are comparable to perceptions of last summer.

But in February 2020, as the Democratic primaries and caucuses were getting underway, 25 percent of Americans said his views were too liberal, while 19 percent said he was too conservative and 42 percent judged his views as about right.

The biggest shift is among Republicans, whose perception that Biden is too liberal has jumped from 46 percent in February 2020 to 80 percent today. Also, about twice as many independents today say he is too liberal, compared with early 2020 ― 45 percent vs. 21 percent.

This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone April 18-21 among a random national sample of 1,007 adults, with 75 percent reached on cellphones and 25 percent on landlines. Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 points for the full sample.