A new poll finds major warning signs for Biden and fellow Democrats The NPR/Marist survey has President Biden with a 42% approval rating. Americans also don't feel the direct payments or expanded child tax credits Democrats doled out helped them much.

A new poll finds major warning signs for Biden and fellow Democrats

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How is President Biden's approval rating so far down? The economy is growing, unemployment has dropped, the president's party has passed or is passing big legislation. But an NPR-Marist poll shows that many Americans do not feel they were helped all that much by pandemic payments and child tax credits passed earlier this year. And their concerns about the economy focus on inflation. More people approve of Biden's handling of the pandemic, but even that approval has slipped. The survey comes just as Democrats prepare to defend their majorities in both the House and the Senate next year. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell and our senior political editor Domenico Montanaro are here. Good morning to you both.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Thanks for having us.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do you see in these numbers?

MONTANARO: Well, there's a few things. I mean, you mentioned Biden's low approval rating. He's at 42%, which, again, is the lowest in this survey since he's taken office. And it's particularly bad with independents where he's underwater. And that's a big deal because Biden won independents in 2020. They were a big reason why he won the presidency. You know, people largely, when we tested the infrastructure bill, say that they support it, but they're less supportive of the Build Back Better bill, which expands the social safety net and addresses some issues when it comes to climate change.

Worse for President Biden is that even though the Build Back Better bill is intended to help regular people with an expansion of the social safety net, people say they're pessimistic that it would actually help people like them. They don't see either bill as likely addressing their top economic concern, inflation, by the way. And that just shows you how the Democratic messaging really hasn't broken through at all with both of these bills.

INSKEEP: Well, Kelsey, let's follow up on the child tax credit, which already is law. These are direct payments to parents, hundreds of dollars per month per child, an amount that would make a big difference to a lot of families. So why do people downplay any benefit to them?

SNELL: You know, there seems to be kind of a perception disconnect at just about every level when it comes to the child tax credit. About two-thirds of the respondents who were eligible for the payment said they received it, but the IRS estimated earlier this year that the families of about 88% of kids should be getting some payment of some kind. That's about 35 million payments that went out in September. So there's a difference between who is getting it and who thinks they're getting it. And, you know, among those people who did say that they're receiving the child tax credit, two-thirds said it only helped them a little, and 1 in 5 said it didn't help at all.

What's interesting here for me is that Democrats say the biggest impact of this credit is on low-income families and low-income families of color in particular. Some data on that is that a Columbia University study found that those monthly payments kept 3.6 million kids out of poverty in October. So people responding here may not be feeling a huge impact, but Democrats are selling a lot of their policies as attempts to impact the greater good in the country, to address systemic problems. But people appear to only be responding to their personal economics.

INSKEEP: Well, people who do know they got the cash don't necessarily give Biden credit, which is another layer of this. In this survey, 17% said that Biden was most responsible for getting them the money, but that's not very many, and 17% said Republicans were responsible, even though they largely opposed it. Zero Republican senators voted for it, but they get the credit.

SNELL: Yeah. I mean, this is something that we hear from Republicans a lot - right? - is that they are willing to go out there and sell pieces of legislation that work for them. Take, for example, the bipartisan infrastructure bill. We've heard some Republicans who voted against it say that they're going to go home and tell people about all of the great projects that it's building there because, you know, they say they voted against the socialist part of it or the part they didn't support, and they're proud of the part of it that's building a bridge or building a road.

MONTANARO: Yeah. Look, this really jumped out to the pollsters, Steve. I mean, part of that is that Biden has tried to act more collaboratively as president. He hasn't been the person who's kind of used the bully pulpit to say that this is what he wants done, and he's going to go to Congress with a piece of legislation and try to sell it to the broader public. In fact, for months, a lot of people questioned just how much Biden was actually involved in negotiations. We only knew later that he was very heavily involved, but much more like you would see with a Senate majority leader or something like that where he's trying not to offend some of those wavering Democrats who he needed to get on board for this legislation and didn't want to tell them with a strict hand how it was going to go. But because of a lot of that Democratic squabbling, Democrats are the ones who got the attention. Democrats in Congress are the ones who get the plurality of the credit here. Forty percent of people say Democrats in Congress are responsible for this.

But this is a big deal when it comes to the president and his perception of leadership. And, you know, one of the things that we found in this survey with the numbers here is that Democrats really don't seem to be all that confident in Biden's presence. Only 38% of Democrats said they strongly approve of the job the president is doing, while 76% of Republicans say they strongly disapprove of the job he's doing. So you have double the negative intensity toward Biden than the positive stuff.

INSKEEP: Well, I guess in all those numbers you gave, at least Democrats can feel reassured, if they want to, that a lot of Americans gave congressional Democrats credit for what they're doing. But taken together, what do all these numbers mean for Democrats in 2022?

MONTANARO: It's not good. You know, this really raises a lot of red flags for the party, especially when they thought that these two pieces of legislation, the infrastructure bill, the Build Back Better bill, if they can get that passed, could be something that they could put their cap on and say, OK, now we can go and give a unified message. It's something that they haven't been able to do, and it doesn't look hopeful for them, especially if it doesn't look like people feel like that the Build Back Better bill will be something that will help them, which was the whole point of it in the first place.

SNELL: And there's also the issue that some of this messaging may not connect with people who view the economy through the lens of their own personal financial position or with people who don't think it's the federal government's job to step in with payments like this. Take, for instance, Robert Cole (ph). He is a Republican from Oklahoma. He responded to the poll saying that he got the child tax credit for his kids, but it didn't help him at all. And he doesn't think it's good for government to be giving money to people.

ROBERT COLE: Long term, it's a problem because you need a better choice. And what you're doing when you actually give these people that Band-Aid is you're making them dependent on that Band-Aid.

SNELL: So Democrats are essentially here trying to sell a policy that may speak to some people in their base, but it may not be the kind of thing that appeals to a large swath of people going into this election.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelsey Snell and Domenico Montanaro, thanks to both of you.

SNELL: Thanks for having us.

MONTANARO: Thank you so much, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU'S "AIREGIN")

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