On behalf of CNBC, Change Research surveyed 1,895 registered voters nationally from December 17-20 to understand how voters would grade the economy and the Biden Administration’s handling of issues impacting the economy a year into his first term. This should be a wake-up call for Biden and Democrats at the start of the on-year: There is overwhelming frustration with the direction of the economy and Biden earns C’s or D’s on every measure in this poll, from the macro-level to kitchen-table issues.
Trump voters express strong disapproval of Biden and rate the economy negatively, as they have since the day Biden took office. But Biden earns such remarkably low marks because his own voters are unsatisfied. They see and feel the rising cost of everything despite record corporate profits, not the impact of the American Rescue Plan or the bipartisan infrastructure investment package, and they are frustrated with the lack of progress on a Democratic policy agenda.
Voters increasingly prioritize the economy and rate it negatively
The economy, jobs, and cost of living is the top issue of importance facing the country with 46% selecting it as one of the top three priorities, up from 37% in September 2021. Even though this poll fielded as the omicron variant was beginning to spread, only 22% selected COVID-19 as a top priority, down from 29% in September 2021 and 44% on Election Week in 2020.
A 73% majority rate the US economy in poor/not so good shape, a 17-point decline compared to this point a year ago. Despite reaching record highs, only 53% rate the stock market positively, down 24 points over the past year. There has been a 9-point improvement in voters’ perceptions of the US job market over the past year, but a 52% majority still rate the US job market negatively.
Voters rate their personal finances and their own job security more positively than the national economy and job market – a trend we see in all of our surveys – but these personal assessments are weaker than they were a year ago. A 52% majority rate their personal financial situations positively, down 15 points over the past year, and 64% rate their own job security positively, down 8 points over the past year.
The reason for these lackluster ratings is more clear when you view the ratings of Trump and Biden voters today compared to a year ago. The growth in the negative ratings among Trump voters greatly exceeds the improvements perceived by Biden voters on every issue except for perceptions of the US job market. In fact, Trump voters were considerably more positive in their economic ratings a year ago than Biden voters are today. Nearly half of Biden voters rate the US economy negatively (49%), 51% rate their savings negatively, and large majorities of Biden voters rate wages (68% poor/not so good), the price of goods (81%), health care costs (90%), and childcare access negatively (89%).
Thinking ahead, a 52% majority believe the economy will be worse in one year and only 26% of voters, including just a slim 53% majority of Biden voters, believe it will be better. On no measure do a plurality of voters express optimism and with the exception of the outlook on COVID-19, voters are more likely to say things will be worse than better. Voters are particularly pessimistic about the price of everyday goods (63% worse in a year) and the price of healthcare (57% worse).
Rising costs are killing the Biden recovery
By far the biggest drag of perceptions of the economy are prices as 89% of voters, including 81% of Biden voters, express negative opinions of the price of everyday goods and majorities say prices will be worse a year from today. While costs are rising, 65% of voters rate wages negatively, a 55% majority of voters report they are earning about the same amount today as they were a year ago, 26% report they are earning less and only 19% report they are earning more.
Voters are most worried about the rising cost of groceries, gas, and healthcare and medication costs. When it comes to groceries alone, 84% of voters say that the prices for groceries are higher than they were just a month ago.
They also do not believe that the prices that they are seeing at stores are likely to come down anytime soon. A 53% majority believe that they are not going to come down for a long time and 25% say they will never come back down. Even a 56% majority of Democrats believe that they will not come down for a long time or ever (37% and 19%, respectively). Only 23% say they are coming down or will begin coming down soon (4% and 19%, respectively).
Votes are most likely to blame Joe Biden for the rising prices of goods in America (38%), followed by the global pandemic (26%) and then corporations (23%), and 11% blame government spending. As expected, there are tremendous differences by vote choice and taken together, voters are split evenly between left and right-wing narratives about who or what is most to blame for rising prices. Trump voters are highly consolidated in their allocation of blame to Joe Biden (75%). Biden voters are split between blaming the pandemic (50%) and corporations (44%) for these price increases. We were surprised to see the focus on corporations as their role in driving prices despite record corporate profits has been largely missing from the mainstream media narrative and political debate. Biden and Democrats could do a much more effective job of leaning into bipartisan anti-corporate sentiment to redefine the inflation story in a way that benefits Democrats.
Biden fails to translate accomplishments to credit and approval
Overall, 56% disapprove of Joe Biden’s job performance – the worst rating of his presidency in our polling and as negative as Trump’s weakest approval rating of 2020 following the first presidential debate. Even more alarming is the intensity of Biden opposition: 48% of voters strongly disapprove of Biden while just 18% of voters strongly approve. While Trump voters universally disapprove of his job performance, as they have since he took office, 14% of Biden voters disapprove of his performance and 14% of Biden voters believe that he has not kept his campaign promises in a negative way.
Biden has clearly failed to translate major legislative victories into positive ratings and majorities disapprove of the way he is handling each issue tested in this survey.
Biden’s first priority was to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. Even though 56% give Biden a lot or some credit for getting 201 million Americans vaccinated, just 45% approve of his handling of the pandemic, an issue on which his rating used to be quite high. This rating may be even worse today as Omicron spreads. When it comes to how the Administration is currently handling vaccine mandates, voters are divided down the middle – 50% believe that the Administration has gone too far, 26% believe they have had the right approach so far, and 24% of voters, including 58% of Biden voters who disapprove of his job performance, believe they have not gone far enough.
When it comes to the economy, just 40% approve of Biden’s job performance, a 6 point decline in approval since August. Voters are even less likely to approve of his handling of kitchen table issues like the price of everyday goods (28% approve) and helping their wallet (34% approve). Biden even gets low marks for the areas where things are objectively better and where people are mostly likely to say things are going well. Just 37% of voters say Biden deserves credit for the stock market reaching record highs and 58% disapprove of Biden’s handling of the stock market, a 9 point decline in approval since August. Only 44% of voters give Biden credit for the economy adding 6 million jobs since he took office and 58% disapprove of his handling of jobs, a 6 point decline in approval since August.
Although 55% of voters give Biden at least some credit for passing the new bipartisan infrastructure law, just 44% approve of his handling of infrastructure. That is a 5-point decline in approval since August despite passing his signature bipartisan infrastructure bill in November.
Only 39% approve of the job Biden is doing helping parents afford childcare despite passing an expanded child tax credit in the American Rescue Plan. In fact, communication about the impact of the ARP overall has proved a massive failure. Only 21% of voters say that the ARP made them better off, 29% say it left them worse off, and 50% say it did not make a difference. Critically, 55% of Biden voters do not believe the ARP made a difference for them and only 43% of Biden voters say it left them better off.
There is still time for Biden and Democrats to course-correct before the midterms. To start, they must address the concerns of the demoralized Biden voters who have driven the souring against Biden since April. Compared to Biden voters who approve of his performance, those who disapprove are less likely to be retired (37% versus 12%), more likely to be service workers (17% versus 25%) or students (5% versus 15%), and are less likely to have a college degree (51% versus 45%); they are more likely to make less than $50,000 a year (49% versus 56%) and are more likely to be earning less income today compared to a year ago (17% and 30%, respectively); they are considerably younger (24% under 35 years old versus 64%) and slightly more diverse (59% white versus 56%).
Compared to Biden voters who approve of his job performance, unsatisfied Biden voters are less likely to believe the American Rescue Plan made them better off (47% versus 18%), are more likely to believe costs at stores won’t come down for a long time if ever (51% versus 86%), and are more likely to blame corporations for the rising cost of goods in America (40% versus 67%). and Biden voters who disapprove of his job performance are most likely to prioritize climate change and environment (51%), the economy (42%), and COVID-19 and compared to Biden voters who approve of his job performance, they are more likely to prioritize the economy (31% versus 42%)
Biden and Democrats must take seriously this lackluster economic report card despite objective improvements in the stock market and unemployment. Trump voters have been consolidated in their negative ratings of the economic metrics since the start of Biden’s presidency. Biden’s approval ratings are now as negative as the worst Trump ratings in 2020 and assessments of the economy are as negative as the worst pre-CARES Act days of the pandemic because of the dissatisfaction of his own voters, 14% of whom say he is failing to live up to his campaign promises in a negative way.
Biden has failed to either earn credit for positive accomplishments and major legislative victories, failed to translate accomplishments into support, or both. He gets little mileage out of his signature legislative accomplishments – the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure bill – and the Democratic coalition is divided in their economic outlook as they struggle with rising costs and stagnant wages. If Democrats want to contend with the intensity and consolidation of their opposition, they must reframe the inflation discussion and deliver on their outstanding campaign promises to help voters’ pocketbooks.