What do Americans think Joe Biden will achieve as president?

January 20, 2021, 5:10 PM UTC

The inauguration of Joe Biden took place amid extraordinarily tight security and anti-pandemic safeguards, both of which the public describes as appropriate.  The somber setting also reflects the national mood. More Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov poll are pessimistic (42%) than optimistic (37%) about the country’s future.

More are satisfied (50%) than not (40%) about the prospect of the next 4 years under Biden, but the poll continues to reflect a sizable partisan divide that shows no signs of shrinking. Three-quarters of Republicans (77%) are upset (45%) or dissatisfied (32%) about the next four years, while nine in 10 Democrats (89%) are either enthused (59%) or satisfied (30%).

Most Americans approve of now-President Biden’s handling of the months-long transition period (54%, including one in five Republicans), while one-third (32%) disapprove. President Trump’s transition approval rating, in contrast, is just 23%.   

More view Biden favorably than unfavorably, though the margin is narrow (49% favorable to 44% unfavorable), although much more positive than Donald Trump’s rating of 41% favorable and 55% unfavorable. More Americans like (42%) than dislike (27%) Biden, and more think he is honest and trustworthy (43%) than not (38%). 

But there are relatively low expectations for what he can accomplish. Most Americans believe Biden can make progress improving the country’s image abroad and that some progress can be made on improving the economy. But when it comes to one of the new president’s major campaign promises — changing the tone in Washington and restoring unity in the country — many are skeptical. Half (49%) expect little (17%) or no progress (32%) on this promise.  

Even Democrats don’t expect much when it comes to changing the partisan tone. Three in five (62%) Democrats believe Biden can do a lot in improving America’s image abroad, but just 26% think he can do a lot to change the tone at home. 

Asked directly whether the new President can bring the country together, just 26% of Americans say he will be able to do that. Approaching half (45%) think he won’t be able to do this. 

President Biden may be able to reach the public through his handling of the coronavirus, an issue that stymied former President Trump. About half (53%) of Americans disapprove of President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, but they are more confident (46%) than uneasy (35%) when describing how President Biden would handle it.   

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between January 16 - 19, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.8% for the overall sample.    

Image: Getty