OPINION

Joe Biden's approval rating with the public is steady. If he can get some GOP buy-in, his numbers will go up.

By Bob Beatty
Special to Gannett Kansas
Bob Beatty

As President Joe Biden approaches enters his fourth month in office, his average job approval rating sits at 54%.

From 1945 to 1981, new presidents enjoyed much better approval ratings in their first few months. Here’s their approval at the same point in their presidencies as Biden is right now: Truman, 87%; Eisenhower, 74%; Kennedy, 79%; Johnson, 80%; Nixon, 62%; Ford, 45% (though he was at 71% before he pardoned Nixon); Carter, 66%; and Reagan, 66%.

Heady numbers indeed.

Compared to those presidents, Biden’s approval doesn’t look very good. However, in the modern American political era, they’re actually pretty decent. Coinciding with the advent of talk radio (Rush Limbaugh began his syndicated political talk radio program in 1988) and cable TV attack shows, such as CNN’s “Crossfire,” American politics became more and more tribal, more and more polarized, and yes, more and more rude and nasty.

George H.W. Bush’s approval ratings at this point in 1989 were 56% and Bill Clinton’s only 48%. George W. Bush sat exactly where Biden is, at 54%. Barack Obama broke the trend a wee bit, sitting at 61% approval.

Donald Trump? Terrible. His 41% average approval after four months in office is the lowest of the 14 presidents since 1945. Trump approval ratings were also the steadiest of all the previous presidents. He never got above 46% approval and on his last day in office his average was 39%.

What does the public like about Biden? On many issues, he is a little above 50% approval, such as the economy, racial injustice, foreign policy, taxes and the environment.

But on the pandemic, Biden averages 64% approval, hitting over 70% in some individual polls. His constant pandemic focus and vaccination benchmarking, along with the popularity of the American Recovery Act, seems to have hit the mark with many Americans.

Biden also does well in the category of “Keeping his promises,” with a 59% of those polled agreeing with that statement in a recent survey.

Finally, 44% of Americans think America is heading in the right direction while 50% don't, a six-point negative gap. You might think that’s not good for Biden, but context is important here. In the last week Donald Trump was in office, the averages for right-direction/wrong direction were 20%-70%, a 50-point negative gap.

Where is he doing poorly? Immigration and guns. Polls show 52% of Americans on average don’t think Biden is doing a good job with border issues, while one recent poll showed 51% disapprove on how he is handling the gun issue.

Unlike his overall support numbers, on both issues, Biden has critics from his left who believe he should be doing more to protect migrants crossing the border and also doing more to pass legislation limiting gun availability.

All these numbers point to steady if unspectacular approval of Biden so far, although on the most important issue of them all, the pandemic, the public seems very pleased.

Also, there is one poll result that points to a possible small breakthrough in American polarization: 60% of Americans said they would like to see President Biden make major changes to legislation in order to win some GOP support.

The next big Biden proposal is infrastructure. If Biden works with Republicans on this bill, we’ll watch his approval numbers to see if Americans are true to their word and reward him for it.