Two-thirds of Americans approve of President-elect Joe Biden’s handling of the transition ahead of his inauguration Wednesday, but mixed confidence in his leadership on major issues along with President Trump’s hold on the Republican Party present sizable challenges for the early days of the new administration, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.
Biden enters office with 49 percent of Americans confident that he will make the right decisions for the country’s future, compared with 50 percent who take the opposite view. The 49 percent represents much greater trust than Trump’s 38 percent mark four years ago but much lower than the 61 percent who expressed trust in Barack Obama’s decisions on the eve of his inauguration in 2009.
The equally divided result on the broad question about confidence in Biden’s leadership and decision-making is mainly the result of strong distrust among Republicans about the incoming president, a finding that persists throughout the poll and underscores the degree to which the deeply polarizing presidential campaign — along with Trump’s baseless claims about a stolen election — have shaped Republican attitudes.
Overall, more than 6 in 10 Americans say Biden was legitimately elected as the 46th president, including more than 9 in 10 Democrats and more than 6 in 10 independents. But 7 in 10 Republicans say he was not legitimately elected. That suggests that Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud, propagated by many other Republicans, have taken root within the party despite the absence of credible evidence, dozens of failed legal challenges and multiple recounts affirming Biden’s victories in Georgia and Wisconsin.
The Post-ABC poll suggests Biden’s low-key posture during a transition in which he produced a steady stream of Cabinet announcements and focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the economy has been repaid in support by the American people. A 67 percent majority approves of the way Biden has handled the transition, including 65 percent of self-identified independents, 95 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of Republicans.
Gary Thomson, a UPS employee and foster parent in Sandstone, Minn., said that he believes Biden “will be a leader that leads by example” and that he will “surround himself with educated people and he will listen to them.” He thinks Biden is “passionate about being president, he’s passionate about America.”
Thomson, who said he was raised as a conservative, voted for Trump in 2016 but felt he could not again last year. Voting for Biden was “the first time in my life I voted Democrat. … Voting for Biden was a no-brainer.”
Incoming presidents have generally won positive marks as they enter office. Trump was an exception, with 40 percent of Americans in January 2017 approving of his handling of what had been a chaotic transition and 54 percent disapproving. Biden’s much higher rating today, while lower than those of Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, is a positive sign for his hopes of being able to move rapidly in dealing with major problems.
One unknown factor that will affect Biden’s early days is the pending Senate impeachment trial of the outgoing president, details of which are still being discussed. The trial not only threatens to create a more poisonous political atmosphere across the country but also will affect Biden’s desire to have the legislative branch of government focused solely on his agenda from the instant he takes office.
Looking beyond the transition period, the public overall is much more lukewarm about Biden’s presidency, with perceptions driven by partisanship. Over a series of questions, Democrats expressed emphatic support of Biden, and independents were split — but Republicans were strongly skeptical.
Whether it is the pandemic, the economy, climate change, racial inequality or improving America’s standing in the world, a large majority of Republicans say they have limited confidence in Biden’s ability to make progress, and a majority of Republicans say they have “none at all.”
Half of Americans say they have “just some” or no confidence “at all” in Biden to make the right decisions for the country’s future overall, a view held by 55 percent of independents and 88 percent of Republicans, while a roughly equal share of Democrats said they had a great or good deal of confidence in him.
While Americans have widely criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a narrow 53 percent majority have confidence that Biden will make progress getting the pandemic under control, while 46 percent are less confident.
Biden faces similarly middling expectations on other issues: 51 percent are confident he will address unequal treatment of people because of their race, 49 percent are confident he will help rebuild the economy, 50 percent are confident he will improve America’s standing in the world, and 44 percent are confident in Biden’s efforts on global warming.
The public is also skeptical that Biden can deliver on one of his signature campaign promises: to negotiate compromises with Republicans in Congress on important issues, with 44 percent confident Biden will make progress in this area and 53 percent less confident.
Thomson, the Minnesota UPS employee, said Biden “has a reputation for reaching across the aisle. He’s been in politics for a long time and knows how to negotiate.”
Thomson said that he doesn’t expect Biden “to wave a magic wand and have everything be hunky dory” but that “once we get covid under control, the economy will come back.”
One asset for Biden is Trump’s declining popularity after his Jan. 6 rally speech in which he called on supporters to challenge the election results at the Capitol, which devolved into the ransacking of the U.S. Capitol and resulted in the deaths of one police officer and four rioters. In results reported Friday, the Post-ABC poll found Trump’s approval rating declining from 44 percent in the fall to 38 percent, with disapproval rising to 60 percent.
Trump claimed in 2018 that he had the right to issue a presidential pardon protecting himself from federal prosecution, though he has not done so — and previously claimed it was unnecessary because he had done nothing wrong. The Post-ABC poll finds a 68 percent majority of Americans oppose Trump’s pardoning himself, while 28 percent support his doing so. A 59 percent majority of Republicans say Trump should pardon himself; 34 percent say he should not.
Separately, a 58 percent majority of the public also supports Twitter’s decision to permanently shut down Trump’s account on the social media site, though views on this also are starkly partisan, with 91 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents supporting the ban, compared with 16 percent of Republicans. The closure of the account has drawn cries of bias from Republicans and has sharply curtailed Trump’s ability to communicate with his followers.
Angela Stio, a retired shoe store owner, Republican and Trump voter from Frederica, Del., wishes Biden good luck in his presidency. “He needs all the luck in the world, because the world now is a mess.”
She says she doesn’t have “a whole lot” of confidence that he will make the right decisions for the country’s future because “he’s a Democrat and I’m a Republican.”
This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 10-13, 2021, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults with 75 percent reached on cellphone and 25 percent on landline. Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is larger for results among subgroups.