president's job approval

Record-Setting Polarization Underlies Biden’s Otherwise Normal Job Approval Rating

W. and Uncle Joe have the same initial job approval numbers, but not the same assessments from partisans. Photo: Getty Images

Last week I took a look at Joe Biden’s initial job approval ratings, and noted they were better than Trump’s ever were, and about in line with other recent presidents not named Trump or Obama.

But now Gallup is out with its initial measurement of Biden’s job approval numbers, and their rich data-base of historical findings provides some new insight into the nature of Biden’s modestly positive ratings. Gallup confirms FiveThirtyEight’s judgment that the 46th president’s initial ratings are consistent with recent presidents other than Trump. Biden is at 57 percent approval, which is exactly where George W. Bush was in his first Gallup reading, which in turn was one point below Clinton’s 58 percent, and six points above Ronald Reagan’s and Jimmy Carter’s 51 percent (Obama was a recent outlier at 68 percent, a level of popularity from which he would soon tumble, while Trump was at 45 percent, near where he would remain throughout his presidency).

While Biden’s “honeymoon” popularity, such as it is, can be described as normal, you cannot say that about the partisan splits that underlie his ho-hum numbers. Uncle Joe has an almost impossible 98 percent job approval rating from self-identified Democrats, and an implausible 11 percent among Republicans. This 87 percent partisan split is a new record, by a significant margin. W.’s “party gap” was 56 percent (32 percent among Democrats, 88 percent among Republicans; his old man’s was a mere 31 percent (38 percent among Democrats, 69 percent among Republicans). Going back further, Jimmy Carter, the butt of so many Republican jokes and taunts, had a 28 percent party gap in his initial job approval (77 percent of Democrats), 49 percent of Republicans). And even Donald J. Trump had a party gap trailing Biden’s: 76 percent (14 percent among Democrats, 90 percent among Republicans).

If you had to pick a positive indicator for Biden that didn’t depend on maintaining insanely high job approval ratings from Democrats or somehow dragging Republicans into his camp, it would be this: 61 percent of independents currently approve of his job performance right now, according to Gallup. With the exception of his partner Barack Obama (who registered 62 percent job approval among indies in his first assessment) that’s higher than any newly inaugurated president since John F. Kennedy (67 percent). Nixon was at 59 percent; Carter was at 60 percent; Reagan was at 53 percent; Poppy Bush was at 48 percent; Clinton was at 54 percent; W. was at 53 percent; and Trump was at 40 percent. That’s a good foundation for Biden to build on even if Democrats don’t all continue to love him, and Republicans don’t all continue to hate him.

A Record Partisan Gap Underlies Biden’s Job Approval Rating