A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that President Joe Biden has thus far failed in unifying the nation. His approval level stands at just 52 percent, one of the lowest polling results for a president since 1945. An NBC poll shows 80 percent of Americans view the country as still deeply divided. The result reflects not just our hardened politics but also the decision of Biden to move forward with a hard-left agenda as well as legislation that is muscled through on a handful of votes. There has been little evidence of an effort to reach consensus or compromise. Nevertheless, the poll is surprising. After all, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is polling at 56 percent and would still win reelection despite allegations that he engaged in rampant sexual harassment, bungled the pandemic, and hid embarrassing data on deaths from Covid-19.
Biden’s popularity is lower than any modern president except for Gerald Ford in 1974 at 48% and Donald Trump at 42% in 2017. ABC reports that “[f]or the 14 presidents from Truman to Biden, the 100-day average is 66%.”
I have been disappointed in Biden’s failure to lead from the middle. I did not have the same expectations for Trump to change his divisive style or policies. However, Biden was once known as a moderate who could make tough calls. I had occasion to meet with Biden as a senator and liked him. I was hoping that that Biden would reappear after the election despite disappointing moments on the campaign trial.
Biden pledged after the election to be honest with the public and make tough calls. He has not fulfilled that pledge. On issues from the effort to end the filibuster to a raw effort to pack the Supreme Court, Biden has remained silent. He has repeatedly shown an unwillingness to confront the far left of his party that seems to be driving legislative and policy initiatives. He has not made the tough calls and that failure of leadership on issues like court packing has put the party at odds with the majority of voters in some areas.
I never understood why Trump did not moderate his rhetoric or politics as every poll showed that he was continuing to lose critical women and suburban voters. Biden seems equally blind to the costs of pursuing the same strategy from the left. He is still doing ten points better than Trump but that is still barely a majority of voters in support of his new presidency. Given his more presidential demeanor and moderate language, Biden should be doing much better. However, his party has gone “all in” on an agenda that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has acknowledged exceeded the expectations of her allies on the far left.
The statement of AOC seems to echo in this poll which found that 40 percent of voters were concerned that Biden was too liberal — the highest of recent Democratic presidents. Another 53 percent were worried that he was expanding the government too much. Only 52 percent favored his handling of the economy and only 37 percent approved of his work on immigration. (He received strong marks for his pandemic relief efforts and move to increase corporate taxes).
The poll also shows a sharp partisan divide with only 13 percent of Republicans supporting Biden (another departure from past modern presidents who generally saw greater support from the opposing party, except for Trump). What may be a greater concern is Independents usually offer sizable majorities for a new president at 100 days — 75% for Reagan and 67% for Obama. Only 47% of independents approve of Biden’s work. Again, he is closer to Trump who saw only 38% support at the same point.
There was a time (not long ago) when the media was viewed as left-leaning but still trustworthy on basic stories. Polling shows that such trust is now gone. The result is that there is no trusted and shared source for information. Our divisions remains unchanged and only deepened by both our politics and press.
Biden will have to decide if he wants to continue to cater to the extreme of his party or whether he will belatedly tack toward the center. Trump refused to moderate his statements or his policies. Biden is better on the rhetoric but he has continued the same divisional politics. Indeed, at least Trump was honest about his inflexibility and defiance. Biden continues to voice the sentiments of compromise but there has been little evidence of a willingness to compromise on many issues. That may succeed if the Democrats can hold their slim lead in both houses. However, like Trump, his first 100 days has been tailored to satisfy the far extreme of his voting base rather than seek broader support through a more moderate agenda.