More Americans than ever before disapprove of Joe Biden’s performance as president

September 08, 2021, 3:12 PM UTC

President Joe Biden is confronting the worst public ratings of his eight-month-old presidency. His approval ratings in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, overall and on his handling of major issues, have all fallen, dramatically in some cases. That includes the evaluation of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, one area where public support had remained high.

For the first time, more American adults disapprove of how Biden is handling his job. Nearly half the public (49%) disapproves of Biden’s job performance in the poll conducted September 4-7, while only 39% approve—a drop of six points in the last week. Twice before, during the pullout from Afghanistan, as many people disapproved as approved, but this is the first time in his first-year presidency that Biden’s ratings are negative.

The drop in Biden’s approval rating is most severe among Democrats. Around nine in ten of them had approved of Biden’s performance for nearly all of his first year in office. This week, Biden’s approval rating among Democrats dropped nine points to 77% from 86% last week.

Biden’s current ratings match those received by former President Donald Trump at a similar stage of his administration. In a poll conducted September 2-6, 2017, 40% approved of the way Trump was handing his job and 52% disapproved. Trump never got approval from much more than 40% of Americans throughout his presidency.

Along with the overall drop in Biden’s approval ratings, a falling share of Americans approve of the president’s handling of specific issues. For the first time, a greater share of Americans disapprove (45%) of Biden’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic than approve (42%). This week, just 40% approve of the president’s handling of jobs and the economy, while 47% disapprove. In previous weeks, more usually have approved than have disapproved. 

Only 16% of American adults now think the economy is improving, while nearly three times as many, 44%, say it is getting worse. Another 27% say the economy is about the same. At the beginning of the Biden presidency, just as great a share of Americans as today said the economy was worsening (44% in the Jan. 30-Feb. 2 poll), but that changed quickly. In May and for part of June, more people said the economy was improving than worsening. No longer.

Democrats remain somewhat positive about the economy: 33% say the economy is getting better while 22% think it is getting worse—but two-thirds of Republicans (66%) and nearly half of Independents (48%) think the economy is getting worse. The growing concern about inflation, not unemployment, may be exacerbating this. While those who think the economy is getting better — or not changing – are as likely to assign responsibility to Trump (37%) as to Biden (39%), nearly two-thirds of those who say it is getting worse (62%) place the blame on Biden. 

There are many reasons for Biden’s slump: economic concerns, the continuing COVID-19 surge and restrictions, reminders of past terrorist attacks, and the difficulties that arose in the pullout from Afghanistan. On that subject, only 33% approve of the president’s management, while 55% disapprove (including 25% of Democrats). This is the case even though more Americans think the original engagement in Afghanistan was a mistake (44%) than believe the decision to withdraw was an error (39%).

Alongside declining public approval of the president, there also has been a sharp decline in Americans’ overall sense of where the country itself is headed. This week, only one in four Americans (26%) believe the country is headed in the right direction, down from 39% in the June 5-9 poll. Six in ten (60%) see the country as on the wrong track, up from 48% in the same June poll. 

Here, too, Democrats’ positive sentiment has declined steeply. Their sense that the country is headed in the right direction dropped nine points this week, to 51% from 60% a week earlier. Just 9% of Republicans and 21% of Independents today think the country is headed in the right direction. Two-thirds of Independents (66%) and 85% of Republicans say it is off on the wrong track. So do one-third of Democrats (35%).

Last week: Most Republicans who have heard of ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment think it may be effective

See the toplines and crosstabs from this 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 September 4 - 7, 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 2.8% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty