Biden’s approval rating matches Trump’s early midterms, lower than other recent presidents

President Joe Biden speaks at a Democratic National Committee event at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, on Oct. 18.President Joe Biden speaks at a Democratic National Committee event at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, on Oct. 18. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Nearly two years into his presidency, Joe Biden’s job rating is at 38% — identical to Donald Trump’s approval rating at a similar point in his presidency, but lower than some other recent presidents in the run-up to their first midterm elections.

A line graph showing Biden's approval rating on the eve of the midterm elections is equal to Trump, Clinton and Reagan's, but lower than Obama's

The trajectory of getting a presidential job approval varies for every White House resident. Biden began his presidency with majority approval: in March 2021, 54% of Americans approved of Biden’s job performance, and his rating rose to 59% a month later. But its popularity plummeted last summer and has been in the low 40s or high 30s ever since.

By contrast, Trump’s job rating remained remarkably stable during his first two years in office — and long after. In fact, until his approval for a job dropped dramatically after the Jan. 6 riots in the US Capitol, about four in 10 Americans consistently approved of Trump’s job performance. In October 2018, nearly two years after Trump was elected, 38% approved of how he conducted his work as president.

We conducted this analysis to understand Joe Biden’s job valuation figures in a historical context. For this analysis, we looked at annual averages for presidential job approval based on annual totals of Pew Research Center surveys from 1993 to 2022 and Gallup organizational data from 1953 to 1993. Job of Biden have been performed on the national representative Americans Trends Panel (read more about the methodology of the ATP); surveys conducted between 1993 and 2017 (and previous Gallup surveys) were conducted by telephone.

Biden’s job rating is quite similar to Ronald Reagan (42%) and Bill Clinton (41%) at this stage of their presidency, but lower than Barack Obama’s (46%). Those three presidents — like Biden — lost ground during their first two years in office.

Biden’s current rating is much lower than that of George W. Bush (61%) and his father, George HW Bush (56%), on the eve of the midterms in their second year of presidency. Positive attitudes for both Bushes rose sharply during their first months in office – after September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the case of George W. Bush and after the US invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf War in the case of George HW Bush – but then refused.

The decline in Biden’s approval ratings since his first months in office has been driven primarily by a decline among Democrats and Democratic-oriented independents. Today, 71% of Democrats approve of Biden’s handling of his job as president, down from 93% in April 2021. There has been a more modest decline among Republicans and Republican leaners, who have largely opposed from his early days in office. Oppose Biden. Currently, only 6% of Republicans rate Biden’s job performance positively, up from 18% in April 2021.

Partisan divisions in views on president have grown in recent years

Presidential approval ratings have always been biased, with members of the president’s party giving more positive ratings than those of the opposing party. But the differences between Republicans and Democrats about the president’s views have grown significantly in recent decades, primarily driven by more negative ratings among party members of the president.

A line graph showing that the partisan gap in presidential job approval has steadily widened over the past few decades

In the two years of his tenure to date, an average of 82% of Democrats have approved of how Biden handled his job as president, compared to just 7% of Republicans — a difference of 75 percentage points.

While Biden’s views on job performance are about the reverse of Trump’s during his four years in office — an average of 86% of Republicans and 6% of Democrats approved of Trump’s way of running as president — the partisan gaps for both Biden like Trump broader than those of previous presidents.

More than six decades ago, President Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed an average approval rating of 88% among Republicans and a 49% approval rating among Democrats — a partisan gap of 39 points. Even some more recent presidents, such as George W. Bush (with an average approval rating of 81% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats, or a gap of 58 points) and Obama (81% of Democrats versus 14% of Republicans, a gap of 67 points) had higher approval ratings from opposing members.

Amina Dunn is a research analyst focusing on US politics and policy at Pew Research Center.

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