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A majority says Biden's first year was a failure, a new poll finds

The latest NPR/<em>PBS NewsHour</em>/Marist survey, which was conducted before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, has stark numbers for President Biden.
Drew Angerer
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The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey, which was conducted before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, has stark numbers for President Biden.

Updated February 25, 2022 at 12:43 PM ET

Rising inflation, a continuing pandemic, a foreign policy misstep in Afghanistan and Democratic infighting all marred President Biden's first year, and now a majority of respondents to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll say his first year was a "failure."

In all, 56% said Biden's first year in office was a failure, versus just 39% who said it was a success.

What's more, 54% said he's not fulfilling his campaign promises, and 52% said he has done more to divide the country than unite it, despite uniting the country being a pillar of Biden's 2020 presidential run.

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The president is clinging to just a 39% overall approval rating, a 36% approval for his handling of the economy and 47% for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Just 30% of respondents said they think the U.S. is headed in the right direction, days before Biden is set to give his first formal State of the Union address.

All are the worst marks of his presidency in the survey.

"These are sort of rock-bottom numbers," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. "It's about as low as you're going to see him [Biden]."

Inflation rises as a top concern

Topping Americans' concerns in the survey is inflation, as 38% said they think it should be Biden's top priority.

That far outpaces other issues, including the pandemic — which just 11% said they think should be his top priority — voting laws (11%), foreign policy (10%) and violent crime (10%).

The rise in foreign policy as an issue comes as the Ukraine crisis is front and center. Again, here, it's bad news for Biden: Just 34% approve of how he's handling the situation, while 50% disapprove. The poll was conducted before Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

The pressing pocketbook concerns of Americans could spell more trouble for Biden if the Ukraine crisis deepens and it means additional pain at the pump.

"I know this is hard and that Americans are already hurting," Biden said Thursday, after Russia's invasion. "I will do everything in my power to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump. This is critical to me. But this aggression cannot go unanswered. If it did, the consequences for America would be much worse."

Optimism about the end of the pandemic

Seven in 10 respondents said they feel generally optimistic that the end of the pandemic is nearing. And while that optimism is potentially good news for Biden and the country, the president likely won't benefit politically until inflation and prices come down.

Americans are split on Biden's handling of the pandemic, which had been a strength of Biden's through the first half-year of his presidency.

There is a significant gender gap — 53% of women approve of Biden's handling of it, while 56% of men disapprove.

Biden's independents problem and an intensity gap

Biden is having real problems with three key groups — independents, suburban voters and a lack of intensity of support among his base.

1. Just 29% of independents now approve of the job the president is doing. In fact, the percentage of them who disapprove is more than double (64%) the percentage who approve.

That is particularly alarming for Biden, considering he won independents in the 2020 presidential election, and it continues a long trend of the crucial swing group sliding away from Biden in the past six months or so.

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2. Just 38% of respondents who live in the suburbs approve of the job he's doing, down 11 points from December. Critically, especially ahead of the 2022 midterms, he has seen a double-digit decline with suburban women in just the past two months, from 57% to 45%.

3. Compounding his problems, there is strong intensity of disapproval against Biden — about as high as the share who strongly disapproved of then-President Donald Trump. But unlike Trump, Biden is lacking in intensity of support.

In this survey, just 14% strongly approve of the job Biden is doing, worse than at any time for Trump during his presidency.

Biden has a chance to gain back standing among these voters if they're presented with an opposing choice in a potential reelection, Miringoff said, considering the president has seen slippage with groups that helped make up the coalition that elected him to office in the first place.

But one thing has become clear, Miringoff added: Biden's efforts to try to win over Republicans has been a strategic failure.

"The Republicans are not for the getting," he said.

Americans supportive of Supreme Court intention

One positive finding for the Biden administration in the survey is that 61% said they approve of Biden saying he will appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court. That includes 30% of Republicans.

The White House said Friday that Biden will nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be on the court.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.