President Biden’s standing with Americans has improved slightly over the past two months, but he remains in negative territory in most assessments of his performance in office and Republicans hold substantial advantages over Democrats on key economic indicators that are shaping the midterm election year, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The new survey, while better for the president and his party than his low point two months ago, nonetheless underscores the head winds Democratic candidates are facing ahead of the November balloting. With a 42 percent approval rating overall, Biden gets low marks on his handling of the economy and inflation and Republicans are significantly more trusted than Democrats on both measures.
More than 9 in 10 Americans say they are concerned, at minimum, about the rate of inflation, which has been at a 40-year high in recent months. That includes 44 percent who categorize themselves as “upset.” Republicans are far more likely to call themselves upset over inflation than either independents or Democrats.
At the same time, half of all Americans (50 percent) say good-paying jobs are easy to find in their communities, findings that reflect the unemployment rate standing near a half-century low and, anecdotally, the many “hiring” signs in business windows across the country. A lesser 43 percent say those jobs are hard to find. Republicans, who generally rate the economy more negatively than Democrats, are, perhaps surprisingly, more likely to say good-paying jobs are easy to find.
In a positive indicator for Biden and his party, the Post-ABC poll also shows Democrats moving to rough parity with Republicans on intentions to vote in House races in November, often seen as a key indicator of the size of the potential shifts in the balance of power. Republicans need a net gain of five seats to capture control of the House from the Democrats, which would allow them to block Biden’s agenda for the last half of his term.
Today, 46 percent of registered voters say they would vote for the Democrat in their congressional district, compared with 45 percent who say they would vote for the Republican. Based on historical patterns, Democrats would likely need a bigger advantage to avoid losing their majority.
Yet last fall, Republicans held a 10-point edge and in February led by seven points on this question, known as the generic ballot. Nearly all of the change since February is the result of a shift toward the Democrats among self-identified independents, a group that can be volatile in public opinion polls.
Democrats have a 12-point margin among voters ages 18 to 39; in February, those voters were split about evenly between the two parties. Democrats have an advantage with these younger voters even though they disapprove of Biden’s performance by a 13-point margin, 52 percent to 39 percent.
The same pattern appears among independent registered voters. This group disapproves of Biden by a 21-point margin but splits 42-42 on the congressional vote.
Despite the vanishing gap between the two sides on which party people say they will support in November, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents continue to say they are more certain to vote in November than Democrats, by a margin of 10 percentage points in the latest poll.
Biden’s overall approval rating among voting-age adults is five points higher than in February, when 37 percent of Americans said they approved of his job performance. His disapproval rate is now at 52 percent, slightly lower than February’s 55 percent, but that shift is within the margin of error. He has ticked up among men and women and shown improvement among independents and slight improvement among Democrats — but has made no gains among Republicans.
Still, there is a significant difference in the passions people bring to their assessments of the president. Overall, 42 percent say they strongly disapprove of his job performance, while 21 percent say they strongly approve.
Biden gets higher marks for his handling of the war in Ukraine than two months ago — up from 33 percent approval in February to 42 percent in the latest survey. But 47 percent disapprove, identical to February. The improvement is due primarily to a drop in the percentage of people who had no opinion two months ago.
An even bigger change comes in assessments of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, 51 percent approve of his performance in this area, compared with 44 percent in February. Overall there has been a shift of 14 points in two months, taking Biden from negative to positive territory on the coronavirus, and the approval level is now similar to where he stood last September.
On the economy, however, there has been no real change, as 38 percent say they approve of Biden’s handling compared with 37 percent two months ago. His ratings on job creation are better but still net negative overall, with 41 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving.
Biden’s worst ratings come on the dominant issue of inflation, with 68 percent saying they disapprove compared with 28 percent who give him positive marks. The president is notably weak on this issue among independents, who could hold the key to the outcome in many contested House and Senate races in November. Just over 1 in 5 independents, 22 percent, say they approve of how Biden has been dealing with rising prices.
Each political party enjoys advantages in how the public sees their ability to deal with different issues and problems, but Republicans hold the edge on some of the issues that are driving the election.
On the economy, 50 percent of Americans say they trust the Republican Party to do a better job, compared with 36 percent who say they trust the Democratic Party more. On inflation, 50 percent say they trust the GOP more compared with 31 percent who say that of the Democrats. Republicans hold a 12-point advantage (47 percent to 35 percent) on the issue of crime, which many GOP candidates are stressing in their campaigns.
On immigration, the public is closely divided, with 43 percent saying they trust Republicans and 40 percent saying they trust Democrats. Republicans and Democrats are deeply polarized on this issue while independents are evenly split, with 39 percent saying they trust Democrats and 39 percent siding with the GOP.
Education issues came to the forefront of political debate over the past year and played a role in the victory of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) last November. Democrats were put on the defensive over a variety of aspects of education, from the teaching of the history of racism to the role of parents in school curriculums to school closings and mask mandates due to the pandemic.
Democrats long have held an advantage on the issue of education, but that eroded in Post-ABC surveys after last November’s elections and in February, with Democrats holding just a three-point advantage in both cases. The new poll finds Democrats with an eight-point advantage (47 percent to 39 percent). While an improvement, the margin is still significantly smaller than the average advantage Democrats had in polls dating back to 1990.
The biggest Democratic advantages are on the issue of equal treatment of racial and ethnic groups (52 percent to 31 percent over Republicans) and on equal treatment of groups regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity (55 percent to 26 percent).
The latter have become political flash points, with Republican governors and Republican-led legislatures moving to restrict discussion of gender issues to schoolchildren and taking action to bar transgender students from participating in school sports.
With the Supreme Court nearing a decision on Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law, Americans say they trust Democrats more than Republicans to deal with the issue, by 47 percent to 37 percent.
Democrats regained a slight advantage in party identification after losing ground over the past year. The current poll finds 48 percent identifying as Democrats or leaning Democratic, which is identical to last April but up from a low of 43 percent in February. Meanwhile, 43 percent identify as Republicans or Republican leaners, ticking down slightly from 46 percent in February but still above the 40 percent mark of one year ago.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted April 24-28 among a random national sample of 1,004 adults, reached on cellphones and landlines. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for overall results and among the sample of 907 registered voters.