Amid Europe’s largest land war since World War II, 7 in 10 Americans expressed low confidence in President Joe Biden’s ability to deal with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a new NBC News poll, and 8 in 10 voiced worry that the war will increase gas prices and possibly involve nuclear weapons.
And during the nation’s largest inflation spike in 40 years, overwhelming majorities said they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and disapproved of the president’s handling of the economy.
Those are some of the major findings of the new national NBC News poll, which found that Biden’s overall job approval rating had declined to 40 percent, the lowest level of his presidency. The survey also found that Republicans enjoyed a 2-point lead in answering which party should control Congress ahead of November’s midterm elections.
“What this poll says is that President Biden and Democrats are headed for a catastrophic election,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinions Strategy, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates.
The poll was conducted March 18-22, before the president's overseas trip, where he met with NATO allies, visited with U.S. troops in Poland and delivered a major speech about Russia's war in Ukraine.
“A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty. Brutality will never grind down their will to be free. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia — for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness,” Biden said Saturday in Warsaw.
The survey does have some silver linings for Biden and Democrats, including an increase in those who said they approve of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, nearly 80 percent of Americans said they agree with Biden's decision to ban Russian oil imports, even if it means higher gas prices.
But what stands out in the poll is that the public hasn’t yet rallied around Biden as a result of the war in Ukraine, said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.
“One thing that has not happened — at least yet — is a rally-around-the-flag reaction with Joe Biden’s job rating increasing. The potential for that to occur could still happen if America becomes more directly involved, but at this stage it is not there.”
Forty percent of adults in the poll approve of Biden’s performance, and 55 percent disapprove — the lowest mark of his presidency in the NBC News poll. The movement is within the poll’s margin of error — in January, Biden's overall job rating stood at 43 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove.
The erosion in Biden’s approval rating has been across the board among key demographic groups, including Black respondents (from 64 percent approve in January to 62 percent now), women (from 51 percent approve to 44 percent), Latinos (from 48 percent to 39 percent) and independents (36 percent to 32 percent).
“You cannot get down to the low 40s in presidential approval unless you have strained your own base,” said McInturff, the GOP pollster.
Seventy-one percent of Americans said they believe the nation is headed on the wrong track, compared to 22 percent who said they believe it’s headed in the right direction, which is unchanged from January’s poll.
And on the issues, 51 percent of adults said they approve of Biden’s handling of the coronavirus (up by 7 points from January) and 42 percent approved of his handling of foreign policy (up by 5 points), but only a third — 33 percent — approved of his handling of the economy (down by 5 points).
Cost of living jumps to top issue
Approval of Biden’s handling of the economy is declining as the cost of living has jumped to become Americans’ most important issue in the poll, displacing jobs and the economy, voting rights/election integrity and the coronavirus, which all topped January’s survey.
Sixty-two percent of respondents said their family incomes are falling behind the cost of living, 31 percent said they’re staying even, and 6 percent said their incomes are going up faster than the cost of living.
Asked whom or what they blame the most for increasing inflation, a plurality of Americans — 38 percent — pointed the finger at Biden and his policies. Republican respondents made up the bulk of those with that opinion.
Another 28 percent put the blame on the Covid pandemic, 23 percent attributed it to corporations that have increased prices, and 6 percent blamed the rising cost of goods and services on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Asked which one issue should be Biden’s top priority — reducing inflation and improving the economy or working to end the war in Ukraine — 68 percent picked inflation/economy, compared to 29 percent who picked the war in Ukraine.
Concerns about the war in Ukraine
Still, the NBC News poll found plenty of Americans who were worried about Russia’s invasion.
Eighty-three percent said they’re concerned that the war is increasing the cost of goods and services like gasoline, 82 percent said they’re concerned that the war will involve nuclear weapons, and 74 percent said they’re concerned the U.S. will send combat troops to fight in Ukraine.
A combined 57 percent of respondents said they believe the U.S. is already at war with Russia (16 percent) or that it will be within the next year (41 percent).
Twenty-eight percent in the poll said they have either a “great deal” (12 percent) or “quite a bit” (16 percent) of confidence in Biden’s ability to respond to Russia’s war with Ukraine and manage the crisis.
That’s compared to a combined 71 percent who said they have “just some” (27 percent) or “very little” (44 percent) confidence in Biden — including 43 percent of Democrats who said they have just some (36 percent) or very little (7 percent) confidence.
“Americans were looking for greater certainty and stability after the 2020 election. Whether it is at home or abroad, these expectations have not been met,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.
Finally, when it comes to November’s midterm elections, the NBC News poll found 46 percent of registered voters preferring a Republican-controlled Congress, compared to 44 percent who said they want Democrats in charge.
The 2-point GOP lead — within the poll’s margin of error — is the first the Republicans have held on this question since 2014.
The NBC News poll was conducted March 18-22 of 1,000 adults — 750 of whom were reached by cellphone — and has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.
The margin of error for the poll’s 790 registered voters is plus-minus 3.49 percentage points.