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Biden's job rating sinks to 42 percent in NBC News poll a year from midterms

Just nine months into his presidency, 71 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, the poll shows.
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WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans now disapprove of President Joe Biden's job performance, while half give him low marks for competence and uniting the country, according to results from the latest national NBC News poll.

What's more, the survey finds that 7 in 10 adults, including almost half of Democrats, believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, as well as nearly 60 percent who view Biden's stewardship of the economy negatively just nine months into his presidency.

One year before next year's midterm elections and less than a week before Virginia's closely watched race for governor, Biden's lower standing has also taken a toll on his party: Democrats trail Republicans on which party better handles the economy, inflation and immigration, while they’ve lost ground on issues like education and the coronavirus.

“Democrats face a country whose opinion of President Biden has turned sharply to the negative since April,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

“The promise of the Biden presidency — knowledge, competence and stability in tough times — have all been called into question,” Horwitt continued.

“What people voted for was stability and calm," added fellow Democratic pollster Peter Hart. "And what they got was instability and chaos.”

In the poll, 42 percent of adults say they approve of Biden’s overall job as president — a decline of 7 points since August, with much of the attrition coming from key parts of the Democratic base.

That’s compared to 54 percent who say they disapprove of the president’s job, which is up 6 points since August.

Using Gallup’s historical data, Biden’s approval rating in this poll (42 percent) is lower than any other modern first-year president’s at a similar point in time, with the key exception of Donald Trump (whose approval averaged 37 percent in fall 2017).

Among a narrower set of registered voters, Biden’s job rating stands at 45 percent who approve, 52 percent who disapprove — a drop from 50 percent who approve, 48 percent who disapprove from two months ago.

The NBC News poll comes after a rough summer and early fall for the first-year president, as he’s faced a new surge of coronavirus cases and deaths, fallout from the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, rising inflation, disappointing jobs numbers and Democratic infighting over Biden’s legislative agenda.

More recently, however, Covid-19 cases and deaths are once again on the decline, and Capitol Hill Democrats have made progress on Biden’s legislative priorities, but still haven’t crossed the finish line.

The poll finds 40 percent of Americans approving the president’s handling of the economy (down 7 points since August), and 51 percent approving of his handling of the coronavirus (down 2 points).

Maybe even more troubling for Biden, just 37 percent of adults give him high marks — on a 5-point scale — for being competent and effective as president, and only 28 percent give him high marks for uniting the country.

By contrast, 50 percent give him low scores for being competent, and 51 percent give him low scores for uniting the country.

Finally, Biden’s favorable/unfavorable rating in the poll (40 percent positive, 48 percent negative) is almost identical to Trump’s in the same survey (38 percent positive, 50 percent negative).

That’s a change from the 2020 general election, when Biden’s favorable/unfavorable rating was significantly higher than Trump’s.

71 percent say nation is on wrong track

Also in the NBC News poll, 71 percent of Americans say they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, up 8 points since August.

That includes 93 percent of Republicans, 70 of independents and even 48 percent of Democrats.

“When you see a wrong track of 71 percent, it is a flashing red light,” said McInturff, the GOP pollster. “These folks are telling us that this is not going well.”

Asked about the country’s future, just 41 percent of respondents in the poll say America’s best years are ahead, while 53 percent say its best years are behind.

Despite that pessimism, however, the survey does show signs of optimism about the coronavirus and the economy.

A majority of respondents — 56 percent — believe the worst is past when it comes to the coronavirus, which is up 18 points from August, when the delta variant was beginning to surge across the country.

And 30 percent of Americans say they’re getting ahead when it comes to their financial situation, while 45 percent say they’re staying where they are. That’s compared with 24 percent who say they’re slipping behind or falling backward.

Looking ahead to 2022

Looking ahead to 2022 midterm elections, which will take place a year from now, 47 percent of registered voters say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, while 45 percent say they want Republicans in charge — essentially unchanged from August.

But the GOP enjoys a significant enthusiasm advantage at this point in the election cycle, with 69 percent of Republicans expressing a high level of interest about the midterms (on a 1-to-10 scale), versus 58 percent of Democrats who hold the same level of interest.

When asked which party better handles particular issues, Republicans hold double-digit advantages on border security (by 27 points), inflation (24 points), crime (22 points), national security (21 points), the economy (18 points) and being effective and getting things done (13 points).

By contrast, Democrats hold double-digit edges on abortion (by 10 points), the coronavirus (12 points) and climate change (24 points), but all of those advantages are smaller than those the party enjoyed during the 2020 election.

Will Trump be a factor — or not?

Finally, the poll finds 20 percent of registered voters saying their vote in 2022 will be a signal of opposition against Trump and 21 percent saying it will be a signal of opposition against Biden.

A majority of voters — 52 percent — say their vote won’t be a signal about either Trump or Biden.

“Little to me indicates that Trump, a year after the election, is uniquely a figure that’s driving the vote,” McInturff said.

The NBC News poll was conducted Oct. 23-26 of 1,000 adults — 650 of whom were reached only by cellphone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

The margin of error for the poll’s 820 registered voters is plus-minus 3.4 percentage points.