A fast-paced vaccine rollout and the $1.9tn coronavirus relief package have helped to give Joe Biden a strong approval rating as he nears his 100th day in office, research published on Thursday has found.
The new president had the backing of 59% of respondents in a wide-ranging Pew Research Center study that compared his performance with that of other recent incumbents in their early days in the White House.
Donald Trump received a job approval rating of only 39% in the first April of his only term of office, while twice-elected president Barack Obama won 61% in that month of his first term, and his immediate predecessor George W Bush was at 55%.
Ronald Reagan had an even higher approval rating at the same stage, 67% according to the Pew figures.
With the crisis at the US southern border emerging as an early test of Biden’s resolve, illegal immigration has surpassed coronavirus as an issue that Americans see as “a very big problem”, the study found.
In a Pew study in June 2020, 58% said the coronavirus pandemic topped the list of concerns, a figure that has dropped to 47% in the latest polling as more adults get vaccinated and states begin to reopen.
Now, affordability of healthcare (56%), the federal budget deficit (49%) and illegal immigration (which has risen from 28 to 48%) all concern Americans more than the Covid-19 pandemic, the study found.
Pew interviewed 5,109 US adults in April 2021 for its research, all members of its American Trends Panel (ATP) recruited to be representative of the general population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories.
A clear majority – 72% of respondents – rated the Biden administration’s rollout of vaccines as good (43%) or excellent (29%), and 67% approved of the coronavirus aid package, 36% of them “strongly”. The survey was conducted before this week’s suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout.
“It’s interesting that the 72% includes a majority of Republicans and Republican leaners at 55%,” said Jocelyn Kiley, Pew’s associate director of research.
The decline of Covid-19 as a prominent issue, Kiley added, could help explain why illegal immigration has re-emerged as a major concern for many.
“The last time we asked these questions was the summer of 2020 when the coronavirus outbreak dominated,” she said. “We’re seeing an increase [for illegal immigration] as Covid-19 has declined.”
One recurring theme of Biden’s January inauguration address was unity, following the turbulence and division of the four years of the Trump administration. Americans, he said, needed to “show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”
In terms of his own personal conduct, at least, Biden appears to be making progress.
More Americans (44%) say they like the way Biden conducts himself than don’t (27%), with another 27% having mixed feelings.
Meanwhile, 46% say Biden has changed the tone of political debate for the better, with 29% saying worse and 27% seeing little change.
On both questions, the study suggests, there are sizable differences in views of Biden and Trump. Last year, only 15% said they liked the way Trump conducted himself as president, a figure that barely fluctuated through his presidency. In 2019 and 2020 surveys 55% said Trump had changed political debate in the US for the worse.
However, deep partisan divisions remain about how well the panel felt Biden was doing over matters of policy. Eighty-one per cent of Republicans, or those who lean Republican, disapproved, while 93% of Democrats or those who lean Democrat approved.
“There is a wide partisan gap there,” Kiley said. “Though for much of Trump’s term we actually saw a Democratic approval in the single digits, so while 18% approval [for Biden] from Republicans is not particularly high, it is higher than Democratic approval of Trump,” Kiley said.