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Poll: At 100 days, Biden's approval remains strong. Can the honeymoon last?

Majorities approve of the president's handling of the pandemic and the economy in a new NBC News poll, but strong divisions remain.
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WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden nears his 100th day in office, slightly more than half of Americans say they approve of his job performance. Biden gets his highest marks on handling the Covid-19 pandemic and his lowest on the situation at the southern border.

Those are the results of a new national NBC News poll, which also found a public that’s largely supportive of Biden’s top legislative priorities; more optimistic about defeating the pandemic; and more bullish about the country’s direction than it was back in January.

“What we don’t know is if this is part of a 100-day honeymoon or something more durable and lasting for the Biden-Harris administration,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

“What we do know is that Joe Biden's presidency is meeting the times,” Horwitt added.

But the poll also shows that nearly 1 in 5 Americans are resistant or hesitant about getting a Covid-19 vaccine; that a majority believe the nation is on the wrong track; and that a whopping 80 percent still think the country is mostly divided, despite Biden’s promise to be a more unifying president.

“In a first-100-days poll, we change presidents, but we don’t change the country,” said McInturff, arguing that the poll doesn’t suggest profound changes in attitude about the nation’s direction and its politics.

According to the poll, 53 percent of adults say they approve of Biden’s job as president — including 90 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of independents but just 9 percent of Republicans — while 39 percent of all respondents say they disapprove.

Biden’s job rating is higher than Donald Trump’s was at this same point in time in the poll (40 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove), but it’s lower than Barack Obama’s was at 100 days (61 percent approve, 30 percent disapprove).

Among registered voters in the new poll, Biden’s job rating stands at 51 percent who approve, 43 percent who disapprove.

The president gets his highest marks on handling the pandemic (69 percent approve), on dealing with the economy (52 percent approve), on uniting the country (52 percent approve) and on race relations (49 percent approve).

“I think I just like how he's handling the Covid crisis more than Trump did,” said one Democratic poll respondent from Iowa.

But Biden’s lowest scores come on dealing with China (35 percent), handling the gun issue (34 percent) and dealing with border security and immigration (33 percent).

“He opened floodgates for illegal immigration,” said one female Trump voter from Texas.

And by a 55-to-34 percent margin, respondents believe that Biden has returned the country to a more typical way that past presidents have governed the country.

“I don't have to think about what Joe Biden is doing every day,” said a North Carolina man who voted for Biden. “The best thing about Joe Biden is I don't have to think about Joe Biden.”

Covid and infrastructure plans popular

The NBC News poll also found that Biden’s top legislative priorities are fairly popular with the American public.

Forty-six percent of Americans say the Covid-19 relief bill he signed into law in March is a good idea, versus 25 percent who call it a bad idea, with another 26 percent who don’t have an opinion.

And 59 percent say his infrastructure plan — which would upgrade roads and bridges, expand broadband access and pay to care for the elderly and disabled — is a good idea, while 21 percent disagree; 19 percent don’t have an opinion.

By party, 87 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 21 percent of Republicans support Biden’s infrastructure plan.

“America may be a divided country, but the data here reveal that Americans are not evenly divided on the path that the Biden-Harris administration is taking,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.

What’s more, 56 percent of respondents say they feel more hopeful when looking at Biden’s leadership and plans for the country, compared with 42 percent who say they feel more doubtful.

Fifty-one percent believe Biden has so far accomplished a great deal or a fair amount in office, versus 47 percent who say he’s accomplished very little or just some — a result that virtually matches the popular vote in the 2020 presidential election.

And when it comes to perceptions of Biden’s ideology, 42 percent of Americans identify the president as moderate; 29 percent say he’s “very liberal”; 15 percent believe he’s “somewhat liberal”; and a combined 8 percent say he’s conservative.

Growing confidence in Covid fight

A majority of Americans — 61 percent — say the worst is behind the United States when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, while just 19 percent believe the worst is yet to come.

That’s a significant reversal from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in October, when 55 percent of voters said the worst was yet to come, and when only 25 percent said the worst was behind the U.S.

The poll also showed that 57 percent of Americans say they’ve already received a Covid-19 vaccine; another 8 percent say they will take the vaccine as soon as they can; and 15 percent say they will wait to see if there are major side effects before take taking it.

That’s compared with 12 percent who say they will never take the vaccine, as well as another 7 percent who will take it only if it’s required.

There’s a striking divide by party here: Among Democrats, 74 percent say they’ve already been vaccinated, while just 4 percent say they won’t ever take it.

But among Republicans, 40 percent say they’ve been vaccinated, while 24 percent say they’ll never take it.

Divided rather than united

Thirty-six percent of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction — up from 21 percent who said this in January.

Yet 56 percent believe the nation is on the wrong track, which continues a streak (going back to George W. Bush’s second term as president) of at least a majority of Americans holding this view in the poll.

And despite Biden’s positive marks on uniting the country, 82 percent of respondents in the poll say the country is divided, while only 16 percent say it’s united.

Other poll findings

  • Asked to pick the one or two most important issues facing the country, Americans’ top responses were Covid-19 (30 percent), uniting the country (25 percent), race relations (23 percent), the economy (23 percent) and border security and immigration (22 percent).
  • The top responses among Democrats were Covid-19 (43 percent), race relations (35 percent), guns (25 percent) and unity (24 percent).
  • Among Republicans, the top responses were the border/immigration (47 percent), the economy (28 percent), taxes and spending (23 percent) and unity (17 percent).
  • Democrats hold a 5-point advantage in congressional preference, with 47 percent of registered voters preferring a Democratic-controlled Congress, and with 42 percent preferring Republicans in charge.
  • And former President Donald Trump’s favorable/unfavorable rating in the poll is 32 percent positive, 55 percent negative, while Biden’s score is 50 percent positive, 36 percent negative.

The NBC News poll was conducted April 17-20 among 1,000 adults — 60 percent of whom have only a cell phone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.