Biden disapproval hits new high as voters give him bad grades on economy, new CNBC/Change poll says

Key Points
  • President Joe Biden's overall disapproval rating reached a new high in December as more voters signaled their unhappiness with his handling of the economy and the Covid pandemic.
  • Results from a CNBC/Change Research poll show 60% of respondents said they disapprove of Biden's handling of the economy as he nears the conclusion of his first year in office.
  • A 55% majority of survey respondents also signaled disapproval of his leadership during the pandemic, an area in which he previously excelled.
CNBC-Change Research polls shows Americans worried about economy, pandemic
CNBC-Change Research polls shows Americans worried about economy, pandemic

President Joe Biden's disapproval rating hit a new high in December as more voters signaled their unhappiness with his administration's supervision of the economy and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fifty-six percent of voters now say they disapprove of the job Biden is doing, the worst such reading of his presidency as he approaches the end of his first year in office, according to new CNBC/Change Research poll. Prior polls in the series showed Biden's disapproval rating at 54% in early September and 49% in April.

Biden's approval rating is now at 44%, down from 46% in September and 51% in April.

The latest sign of trouble for Biden comes as his administration looks to tackle a wide range of economic and political problems ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, which will decide the balance of power in Congress.

The White House is scrambling to quell fears about price acceleration and inflation, resurrect the president's Build Back Better climate-and-family legislation, and rejuvenate the country's public health response as the omicron variant drives a new spike in Covid cases.

Frustrations over the economy are the main culprit behind Biden's flagging popularity as nearly every demographic declared it their No. 1 issue.

The economy was the top priority for men and women, every age cohort, Latino and white voters, and those with and without college educations. Black respondents, who named racism their chief priority, said the economy takes second place.

Sixty percent of the survey's 1,895 respondents said they disapprove of Biden's handling of the economy, marking a six-point decline in approval from September.

On personal economic issues, voters are even more likely to criticize the president. Some 72% disapprove of his handling of the price of everyday goods, while 66% disapprove of his efforts to help their wallets.

Disconnect on markets, economy

Biden also scored poorly on issues voters are otherwise likely to say are going well.

For example, most people who said they plan to vote in the 2022 midterms say the U.S. stock market is doing "excellent" or "good" while just 46% say it's doing "not so good" or "poor."

But when asked whether they approve or disapprove of Biden's handling of the market, just 44% said they strongly or somewhat approve compared to 56% who somewhat or strongly disapprove.

In fact, a greater percentage of respondents said they feel the U.S. stock market is doing worse than the year-earlier period than those who said it's doing better.

Those opinions, gathered from Dec. 17 to 20, run counter to what was one of the market's best years in decades. All three major U.S. equity indexes posted mammoth double-digit gains in 2021 compared to their historical annual average around 7% or 8%.

The S&P 500 finished the year up 26.89% and posted a record close at least once a month. The broad market index notched 70 such record closes in 2021, the second-highest annual total behind 1995's 77 closing highs.

All 11 sectors finished 2021 higher, with energy and real estate posting the best returns. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 18.73% and the Nasdaq Composite rose 21.4%.

Biden's inability to garner credit for one of the stock market's best years in living memory is symptomatic of a larger problem for Democrats in 2022: The party can't seem to convince voters that things are better than they were 12 months ago.  

The unemployment rate is down to 4.2% from 6.3%, average hourly earnings are up 4.8%, and 243 million people (or 73% of the U.S. population) have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine compared to the 6 million who had received one by early January 2021.

This failure to turn improving economic stats into popular support adds pressure for any Democrat facing a challenge from the Republicans in the midterms, which will decide whether the Democrats keep their razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate.

While the president's party typically loses seats in Congress during a first-term election, present polling about Biden and Democrats suggest they could face a rout in November.

That may be because members of both parties are growing more frustrated with inflation.

Some 84% of those surveyed said the prices they see for everyday goods are higher than they were a year ago, while just 19% report earning more income over the same period. And only 23% say they believe inflation is starting to come down or will begin to decline soon.

Respondents tend to blame Biden (38%) for the price increases versus the global pandemic (26%) or corporations (23%). For their part, Democrats say the global pandemic caused the current rash of inflation and that it will calm down once supply chain disruptions are resolved.

Covid and health care

But voters' discontent is starting to spread outside the economic arena.

Asked to give the Biden administration a letter grade on both how it's handled health-care costs and raising wages, Democrats gave the president two Cs, but a B on the economy overall.

Independents gave Biden a D on every issue, while Republicans gave the president a failing grade across the board minus the stock market, where they gave him a D.

What's more, a 55% majority of survey respondents said they disapprove of the president's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a sign Biden is struggling in an area where he previously excelled.

A separate survey conducted by CNBC in December showed only 46% approve of his job on the virus versus 48% who disapprove. That April version of that survey showed that 62% of surveyed Americans approved of Biden's handling of the pandemic.

Change Research noted that the president's worsening approval ratings on Covid is likely due to an increase in voters who believe the White House hasn't gone far enough when it comes to vaccine mandates.

When it comes to how the Biden administration is handling the virus, 50% of respondents say the White House has gone too far, 24% say it hasn't gone far enough and 26% believe it's done a good job.

Biden's dip in Covid-related approval figures comes as the number of new coronavirus cases soar across the country and tests the president's campaign commitment to do a better job at managing the disease.