As COVID-19 cases continue to fall and an increasingly vaccinated America emerges from the worst of the pandemic, the biggest political challenge facing President Biden may no longer be the virus itself.
Instead, a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll suggests that the more the U.S. recovers, the more Americans may start to question whether the administration’s multitrillion-dollar policy agenda is helping or hurting the economy.
The survey of 1,561 U.S. adults, which was conducted from May 11 to 13, found that Biden remains relatively popular with the American people — far more popular, for instance, than Donald Trump was at any point during his presidency. Yet Biden’s current job approval rating (49 percent) is 5 points lower than it was in late April, and his disapproval rating (40 percent) is 3 points higher. That’s one of the smallest splits in any Yahoo News/YouGov poll since Biden took office.
It’s too soon to say whether this movement signals a real shift in public opinion or is just a blip in the data; polling averages still show that a majority of Americans approve of how Biden is handling his job, and the variations are within the margin of error. Yet there are other warning signs for the president in the Yahoo News/YouGov numbers.
Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. economy added 266,000 new jobs in April, about a quarter of the 1 million jobs that many forecasters had expected. Meanwhile, consumer prices jumped at the fastest pace in more than a decade.
Republicans immediately blamed Biden’s policies for the shaky economic stats, claiming that his extra COVID-era stimulus spending was disincentivizing workers and risking inflation. The administration countered that such wobbles were a natural part of an economy righting itself after a once-in-a-century pandemic, and likely fleeting.
Americans are not yet sure what to think, but they are wary of the government overreacting. While 54 percent still approve of Biden’s coronavirus response, and 47 percent still support how he’s handling the economy, the public is split over how the administration should proceed. Asked how much the government should do to “help Americans affected by the pandemic,” only 29 percent say it should do more; a higher share (33 percent) say it has “done enough and should start doing less.” About a quarter of Americans (26 percent) say the government is currently doing the right amount.
Likewise, 43 percent of Americans — a plurality — say the government should end its $300-per-week unemployment supplement for Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic (which is paid out on top of the usual weekly benefit of $600, and which several Republican governors have already curtailed, citing corporate concerns that it is discouraging people from returning to work). Slightly fewer (41 percent) say the extra payment should continue.
Asked to name the main reason why unemployment is high right now, the same share of Americans (41 percent) say “the pandemic is making it hard for unemployed Americans to find work”; more (44 percent) say “government payments are making it too easy for unemployed Americans to not work.” And despite the ravages of the pandemic — and the massive government response it required — Americans remain closely divided over whether they prefer a “smaller government providing fewer services” (37 percent) or a “bigger government providing more services” (41 percent).
This doesn’t spell doom for Biden’s ambitious agenda. Half (50 percent) of the public favors his $2 trillion legislative package designed to modernize America’s infrastructure and combat climate change, and even more (51 percent) back his $1.8 trillion legislative package designed to support working families. Opposition to both proposals lags at 30 percent, and a full 54 percent of Americans support Biden’s plan to pay for his agenda by raising taxes on corporations and Americans making more than $400,000.
Yet for Biden, small warning signs are beginning to surface. Even as 41 percent of Americans say Congress should spend “as much as it takes” on these proposals, nearly the same number say the Legislature should spend less (19 percent) or nothing at all (19 percent).
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,561 U.S. adults interviewed online from May 11 to 13, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.6 percent.
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