New UMass Amherst / WCVB Poll Finds Majority Approval of Biden’s First 100 Days, While One-Third of Americans Still See His Presidency as Illegitimate

The president receives high marks on his handling of the COVID vaccine rollout and overseeing the economic rebound, while concerns exist over gun violence and immigration at the Mexican border
Raymond La Raja
Raymond La Raja
Tatishe Nteta
Tatishe Nteta
Jesse Rhodes
Jesse Rhodes
Alexander Theodoridis
Alexander Theodoridis

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at www.umass.edu/poll

AMHERST, Mass. – While President Joe Biden receives overall majority approval for his performance during his first 100 days in office, a new nationwide University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB poll released today also found that fully one-third of Americans continue to view his presidency as illegitimate.

The new poll of 1,000 respondents conducted April 21-23 found that 51% approve of how Biden has been doing his job, while 44% disapprove of his overall performance. Respondents’ views of his job trend toward the extremes of the scale, with 29% strongly approving and 36% strongly disapproving of his performance, while only 22% somewhat approve and 8% somewhat disapprove. Just 6% of the poll’s respondents were unsure of his performance.

Majorities of most voter demographics said Biden had met or exceeded their expectations over his first 100 days, with approximately 60% or more of almost all categories of voters saying that their expectations have been met. Even one-third of Republicans (32%) admitted that Biden had met or exceeded their expectations, although 68% said he had fallen short.

“Maybe Americans prefer reliable vanilla right now,” says Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “Biden’s top qualities are that he is ‘compassionate,’ with 43% saying so, and ‘competent,’ with 40% saying so. At the same time just 28% of voters find him ‘uplifting.’ When asked to describe Biden in one word, most say he is ‘good.’ That’s not a colorful description, but it shows a level of satisfaction with him even if voters don’t find him inspiring, and I’m guessing the Biden Administration is okay with this kind of report card on the president.”

“While the majority of the public approves of the job that President Biden is doing, the picture is not as rosy for him when assessing his handling of the crisis at the Mexican border or the spate of gun violence plaguing the U.S.,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll.

Asked about the situation at the Mexican border, a plurality of the poll’s respondents – 44% – said Biden has not handled the issue well at all, while an additional 19% said he has not handled it too well. Only 27% said he has handled the border issue somewhat well or very well. Similarly, 56% said he has not handled the issue of gun violence in the U.S. well – including 36% who say he has not handled it well at all – as opposed to only 31% who said he has handled the issue well.

“In the midst of an unprecedented number of mass shootings in the United States, respondents across demographic and political groups give the president low marks for his handling of gun violence in the country,” Nteta says.

Biden’s handling of the economy and the rollout of COVID vaccines receives much higher numbers though.

“While on the campaign trail, Joe Biden pledged to tackle the COVID-19 crisis head on if elected president,” Nteta says. “Two-hundred million vaccine doses later, Americans are clearly satisfied with his performance as two-thirds of respondents believe that President Biden has handled the rollout and distribution of the vaccines well, with a whopping 42% saying that he has handled the rollout very well.

“The nation has recognized Biden’s initial success in ‘building back’ the economy, as well, with 50% of Americans saying they believe that he has handled the economy well in his first 100 days,” he adds. The poll found that 79% said the overall state of the national economy was fair or better, up from 68% in a national UMass Poll conducted in October 2020.

“The major criticisms of Biden’s presidency among political and media elites – that he is boring, uninspiring and conventional – may actually be his primary sources of strength among the public,” adds Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “Having been exhausted, if not traumatized, by the endless drama of the Trump presidency, many Americans may appreciate a president whose primary virtues, in their view, are competence and compassion.”

Biden’s Legitimacy

Disturbingly, one-third of the poll’s respondents believe that Biden’s victory last November was not legitimate, with nearly one-quarter (24%) saying that it was “definitely” not legitimate. “While some have painted the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement as on the fringes of American politics, our results suggest that large portions of the American public continue to question whether Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States,” Nteta says.

“A basic principle of democracy is acknowledging the electoral victory of a rival party,” says La Raja. “On this score, American democracy is fraying. An astounding three-in-four Republicans believe that Biden’s victory in the presidential election is not legitimate. This is surely an alarm bell. It has been triggered by polarized politics and Republican officials who have stoked the myth that the election was corrupt. Research shows partisan voters follow the cues of their leaders. Without truth telling from the top, these citizens will continue to doubt Biden’s legitimacy as president.”

“Partisanship and ideology are predictable sources of opposing attitudes toward Biden and the legitimacy of his election,” Rhodes says. “Perhaps more troubling is the reality that the nation is racially divided on these questions, as well, with whites much less likely to support Biden (44%) or accept the legitimacy of his election (54%) than African Americans (74% / 83%), Latinx (59% / 69%) or Asian Americans (75% / 84%). To an almost unprecedented extent, racial identity has become a primary fault line in attitudes toward the president. This is not a good sign for our democracy.”

“Polarization has killed the presidential honeymoon,” says Alexander Theodoridis, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “Biden has made it a point to be less inflammatory and is, by virtue of who he is and his political style, a much less divisive figure than his predecessor. That hardly seems to have made a dent in the partisan wall dividing us. Indeed, only 15% of Americans believe relations between Republicans and Democrats have improved under Biden and, all these months later, fewer than one-in-five Republicans say that Biden's victory in 2020 was legitimate. Two-thirds of partisans believe the other side to be ‘evil.’ Given this political context, though not historically, Biden’s approval ratings should be considered solid.”

Congress and the Supreme Court

In addition to their views on the president, the poll also asked respondents about how they believe Congress and the Supreme Court are doing their respective jobs. Only three-in-ten respondents approve of the job being done by Congress, as opposed to twice as many (59%) who disapprove.

“Congress is actually experiencing a high-water approval in the past 10 years, at least among Democratic voters,” La Raja says. “Right now, 30% of Americans approve of the job they are doing, which includes 51% of Democrats, but just 12% of Republicans. The bump may not seem like much, but this bastion of representative democracy has had ratings in the basement, ranging mostly between 15-20% since 2010.”

“What really stands out are the very soft approval numbers for the Supreme Court, with fully 43% disapproving of the institution,” Rhodes says of the highest court in the land, of whose job 42% approve. “This likely reflects many Americans’ frustration with the politicization and polarization of the Court over the last few decades, as well as the uproar over controversial appointments – particularly that of Brett Kavanaugh – during the Trump presidency. Substantial disapproval of the Court may provide energy for reform of that institution in the coming years.”

“Even with a record three female members of the Supreme Court, women (39%) surprisingly rate the performance of the Supreme Court more negatively then men (46%),” Nteta adds.

Overall, less than one-third (31%) of the poll’s respondents said things in the country are generally going in the right direction, with 54% saying things are on the wrong track.

Methodology

This University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll of 1,000 respondents nationwide was conducted April 21-23 by YouGov. YouGov interviewed 1,151 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 1,000 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race and education. The frame was constructed by stratified sampling from the full 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) one-year sample with selection within strata by weighted sampling with replacements, using the person weights on the public use file.

The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched cases and the frame were combined and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity, years of education, and region. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles.

The weights were then post-stratified on 2016 Presidential vote choice, and a four-way stratification of gender, age (4-categories), race (4-categories) and education (4-categories) to produce the final weight.

The margin of error within this poll is 3.4%.

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at www.umass.edu/poll