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Biden's job ratings decline amid Covid surge, Afghanistan withdrawal in NBC News poll

"Summer of discontent": Biden’s overall job approval falls below 50 percent for the first time in the NBC News poll, while just 25 percent approve of his handling of Afghanistan.
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WASHINGTON — After a spike in U.S. Covid-19 cases and bipartisan criticism over the chaos from America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden's overall job-approval rating has dipped below 50 percent among adults for the first time in his early presidency, according to a new NBC News poll.

The poll also finds fewer Americans support Biden’s handling of the coronavirus and the economy now than they did last spring, and just a quarter of respondents approve of his handling of Afghanistan.

The survey findings demonstrate the public has grown more pessimistic about the coronavirus since April, the country remains split over whether Covid-19 vaccines should be mandated and an electorate is divided over which political party should control Congress after the 2022 midterms.

It’s all produced a “summer of discontent” for Biden, said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

“The promise of April has led to the peril of August,” Horwitt said, arguing that Covid — more than Afghanistan — has dented Biden’s numbers. “It is the domestic storm, Covid’s delta wave, that is causing more difficulties at this stage here at home and for President Biden.”

McInturff agrees.

“The best way to understand this poll is to forget Afghanistan,” he said.

According to the survey, 49 percent of adults approve of Biden’s overall job performance, while 48 percent disapprove.

That’s down from April’s NBC News poll, when 53 percent of adults approved of Biden’s job and 39 percent disapproved — with some of the biggest declines for Biden coming from independents, rural residents and white respondents.

Democrats, however, have held steady, with 88 percent of them approving of Biden’s job (it was 90 percent in April).

Among a narrower sample of registered voters, Biden’s current job rating stands at 50 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove — down from April, when it was 51 percent approve, 43 percent disapprove.

(Despite this drop for Biden, his approval rating is higher than former President Donald Trump’s ever was in the poll during his entire presidency.)

Additionally, the poll finds 53 percent of Americans approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus (which is a 16-point drop from April) and 47 percent approve his handling of the economy (a 5-point decline from the spring).

And just 25 percent approve of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan, while 60 percent disapprove.

The NBC News poll was conducted Aug. 14 to 17 — before, during and after Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, fell to the Taliban.

While most Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan, they also oppose the 20-year-old war there.

Sixty-one percent believe the war was not worth it, compared with 29 percent who say it was — numbers that are virtually identical to when this question was last asked, in 2014.

An increasingly pessimistic public

What also has changed for Biden since April is a more pessimistic public, according to the NBC News poll.

Overall, only 29 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction, which is down 7 points from the last survey.

A majority of Americans — 54 percent — say they are mainly worried and pessimistic about the country’s future, versus 44 percent who say they are mainly hopeful and optimistic.

Just 24 percent describe the current state of the economy as excellent or good.

On the coronavirus, 37 percent of respondents say the worst is behind us, while 42 percent say the worst is yet to come.

That’s a significant reversal from April, when 61 percent of Americans said the worst was behind us, versus 19 percent who said the worst was yet to come.

A deeply divided nation

In addition, the poll shows that deep divisions remain in the country, despite Biden’s call for unity in his inaugural address.

Eighty-eight percent of Democrats approve of Biden’s overall job performance, while an equal 88 percent of Republicans disapprove. (Independents are split down the middle: 46 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove.)

Forty-seven percent of registered voters prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress, while 46 percent want Republicans in charge. (That’s down from the Democrats’ 5-point advantage on this question in April.)

Fifty percent of Democrats rank the coronavirus as one of the most important issues facing the country (compared with 13 percent of Republicans who feel the same way), while 51 percent of Republicans see border security and immigration as one of the top issues (compared with just 4 percent of Democrats).

Forty-eight percent of Americans support requiring every eligible person to get a Covid-19 vaccination, versus 50 percent who oppose that.

Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, receives divided marks in the poll, with 40 percent of the public viewing him positively and 36 percent viewing him negatively. (In the poll a year ago, Fauci’s rating was 50 percent positive, 13 percent negative.)

“We are still in a red and blue country — not a red, white and blue America,” Democratic pollster Peter Hart said.

Other findings in the poll

  • Sixty-nine percent of Americans say they’ve gotten a Covid-19 vaccination, while 13 percent say they won’t get it under any circumstance (the rest say they will get it as soon as possible, will wait or will get it only if required).
  • Forty percent say Biden has accomplished either a great deal or a fair amount as president, while 58 percent disagree.
  • Thirty-five percent of Americans say the Covid relief legislation that was passed in March is helping improve the economy or will do so in the future, versus 38 percent who believe it won’t help or will hurt the economy; 27 percent have no opinion or are unsure.

The NBC News poll was conducted Aug. 14-17 among 1,000 adults — 600 of whom are cellphone-only respondents — and the overall margin of error in the poll is plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

Of the 790 registered voters the poll measured, the margin of error is plus-minus 3.5 percentage points.