The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Americans not feeling impact of Biden agenda, Post-ABC poll finds

More than 6 in 10 say the president has not accomplished much, despite the passage of numerous bills

President Biden walks from Marine One as he returns to the White House on Friday. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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Two years into a presidency that the White House casts as the most effective in modern history, President Biden is set to deliver a State of the Union address Tuesday to a skeptical country with a majority of Americans saying they do not believe he has achieved much since taking office, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The poll finds that 62 percent of Americans think Biden has accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing” during his presidency, while 36 percent say he has accomplished “a great deal” or “a good amount.” On many of Biden’s signature initiatives — from improving the country’s infrastructure to making electric vehicles more affordable to creating jobs — majorities of Americans say they do not believe he has made progress, the poll finds.

The dynamic arguably raises the stakes of Biden’s prime time speech on Tuesday. The president is expected to use the platform to tout his accomplishments and remind voters that many of the laws he signed during the first half of his term are just now being implemented.

It’s a message he has pushed since before the midterm elections, when his party’s better-than-expected performance convinced many aides that, despite his low approval ratings, Americans largely support his agenda. Biden has said one of his main goals for the year is to make sure Americans feel the impact of the laws he signed during his first two years in office, including a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, legislation aimed at combating climate change, a $52 billion effort to boost domestic manufacturing and a cap on the price of insulin for seniors.

“It’s one thing to have passed it all — now we have to make sure we’re on it every single day. Not a joke,” Biden said in a Jan. 26 speech on the economy. “Implementing it so people can see what we’ve delivered and give it to them directly.”

Overall, the poll’s findings are not reassuring for either party. On the looming fight over the debt limit, most Americans are closer to Biden’s position than the GOP’s, and most dismiss Republican plans to investigate the government’s “weaponization” as political.

And Americans have little confidence in either Biden or House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to make the right decisions for the country’s future. Just under 2 in 10 Americans have “a great deal” or “a good amount” of confidence in the speaker to do so; 71 percent have “just some” or no confidence at all. A similarly high 72 percent say they lack such confidence in congressional Republicans, and 68 percent say the same about Biden and 70 percent about congressional Democrats.

But Biden is the one who will be making his case to the American people Tuesday. And many of them say he has not yet made much progress on key issues.

While 77 percent of Democrats say Biden has accomplished at least a good amount, that drops to 32 percent among political independents. Only 7 percent of Republicans say he has accomplished much, while 93 percent say he has accomplished not very much, little or nothing.

Post-ABC poll crosstab results by group

Doubts about Biden’s achievements are higher than those for former president Barack Obama in 2010 and 2012. As Obama sought reelection, 52 percent of adults said he had accomplished “not much” or “little or nothing” at both points. In a potentially ominous sign for the White House, Biden’s numbers are roughly on par with the negative ratings of former president Donald Trump, who went on to lose his reelection.

Biden has said the Obama administration did not do enough to tout all of its legislative victories in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and he has promised not to repeat that mistake.

The president recently said he had put together an “implementation cabinet” of top officials “whose job is to just do nothing but let people know what we have already done.”

But many of the laws passed in 2022 will not be fully implemented for months or years, and challenges facing consumers today — such as lingering inflation and broader economic uncertainty — could complicate the White House push to get credit for its achievements.

Just under a third of Americans (32 percent) think Biden has made progress improving roads and bridges in their community, while 60 percent say he has not, the poll finds. Biden has been visiting events that kick off projects funded by his infrastructure bill, such as a $1.6 billion bridge linking Ohio and Kentucky and tunnel projects in Baltimore and New York.

Three in 10 Americans say Biden has made progress lowering prescription drug costs, while 47 percent say he has not and 23 percent are unsure. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act includes provisions aimed at reducing drug costs for Medicare recipients, though a $35 cap on monthly insulin costs only took effect last month and the impact of other changes may not be felt for years. Among seniors ages 65 and older, a larger 42 percent say Biden has reduced drug costs.

On the question of whether Biden has made progress in improving the affordability of electric vehicles, 26 percent of Americans say that he has while 56 percent say he has not and 18 percent have no opinion. The expanded tax credits authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act became available to car buyers in January.

Perhaps most troubling for the White House, about a third of adults say Biden has made progress creating more good jobs in their community while 60 percent say he has not. Biden has overseen the fastest pace of job growth in U.S. history, with unemployment reaching lows not seen in decades.

Read full Post-ABC poll results

The president received more good news Friday, with the release of new data showing that the labor market added 517,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent, the lowest level since May 1969. “I’m happy to report that the state of the union and the state of our economy is strong,” Biden said after the numbers were released.

Yet a growing number of Americans say their own financial circumstances are worsening on Biden’s watch. Roughly 4 in 10 Americans (41 percent) say they are not as well-off financially since Biden became president, up from 35 percent one year ago and the highest percentage to report such a sentiment under any president in Post-ABC polls since measurement began in 1986.

Republicans have seized on that sense of economic gloom, hammering Biden over high prices, pointing to high-profile layoffs in the technology sector and blaming Biden’s covid relief spending for high prices.

That has sparked a battle over raising the federal debt ceiling, which sets a statutory maximum on how much the U.S. government can borrow. The United States has already hit the current $31.4 trillion limit, and “extraordinary measures” by the Treasury Department to avoid default could expire by June.

Asked how concerned they are that a government default on its debts would seriously damage the economy, roughly 8 in 10 Americans say they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned. That is widespread across party lines with majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents all “very concerned” about the impact of a potential default.

In a sentiment that could bolster Biden, about two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) say debt payment and federal spending should be handled separately, while 26 percent say Congress should allow the government to pay its debts only if the administration agrees to cut federal spending. The White House has said the debt ceiling should be raised without any conditions, to pay for spending that has already been approved and to avoid a disastrous default.

There is greater disagreement between party members over how the country is handling the war in Ukraine, reflecting a growing wariness over the increasing costs associated with Biden’s pledge to continue supporting the Ukrainians “for as long as it takes.”

Almost a year after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, 50 percent of Republicans say the United States is doing “too much” to support Ukraine, up sharply from 18 percent in April. By contrast, a 58 percent majority of Democrats say America is doing “about the right amount” and 22 percent say it is doing too little. Among independents, 40 percent say the country is doing about the right amount, 21 percent saying it is doing too little and 33 percent say it is doing too much.

Overall, 40 percent of Americans say the United States is doing the right amount to help, and 19 percent say it is doing too little. But the share saying the country is doing “too much” has more than doubled from 14 percent in April to 33 percent today.

McCarthy, who will be seated behind Biden during his speech Tuesday, secured his speakership while pledging that House Republicans would form a subcommittee to investigate allegations that federal agencies have been “weaponized” against conservatives. The Post-ABC poll finds that 28 percent of Americans think federal government agencies are biased against conservatives, while 11 percent think they are biased against liberals and a larger 42 percent say they are not biased either way.

Asked about congressional Republicans’ upcoming inquiry, 36 percent of Americans say it is “a legitimate investigation” while 56 percent say it is “just an attempt to score political points.”

Biden is also likely to use his speech to touch on the wave of mass shootings that have taken place during his presidency, including several massacres in the past month. He may reiterate his call for a new ban on the sale of assault weapons, something that appears to be losing public support. The share of Americans who back banning assault weapons has fallen to 47 percent, down from 56 percent in 2019 and one of the lowest levels in polls over three decades.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted Jan. 27 through Feb. 1 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points among the full sample and a larger error margin among subgroups.