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Biden’s Initial Batch Of Executive Actions Is Popular

The slew of executive actions that President Biden started off his presidency with are popular with the public, according to two recent polls.

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In his first week in office, Biden announced at least 33 new policies that he will implement through the executive branch, according to a count from CNN. Polls conducted by Morning Consult and Ipsos since Biden’s first day in office have assessed public opinion on 14 of these policies. In all cases, more of those polled favor the policies than oppose them, and a majority support nearly every policy.

Most of Biden’s executive actions are popular

Share of all respondents and Republican voters who support or oppose 14 of Biden’s executive actions during his first week in office

Support Oppose
Biden Executive Policy All GOP All GOP
Prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity† 83% 64% 16% 34%
Committing to a government-wide focus on racial equity† 77 52 21 45
Requiring masks on federal property 75 54 19 35
Continuing suspension of federal student loan repayments‡ 68 46 19 38
Continuing a ban on evictions‡ 66 49 17 31
Restarting DACA program† 65 33 33 66
Rejoining the World Health Organization 62 29 30 61
Recommitting to the Paris climate agreement 61 27 31 63
Reexamining Trump policies on public health and the environment‡ 57 24 28 56
Allowing noncitizens to be counted in the U.S. Census† 56 17 42 81
Ending new wall construction at the U.S.-Mexico border 53 14 40 80
Ending the ban on travel to the U.S. from some primarily Muslim/African nations 52 16 40 75
Enacting a moratorium on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge‡ 49 21 27 53
Revoking the permit for the Keystone pipeline‡ 43 15 32 60

†Polled only by Ipsos.

‡Polled only by Morning Consult.

Policies polled by both Ipsos and Morning Consult show the average.

Source: polls

And while polls haven’t been released to specifically ask about Biden’s executive order to reverse the ban on transgender people serving in the military, previous surveys suggest that move will also likely be popular with the public.

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The popularity of these policies is notable for a few reasons. First, Biden’s emphasis on trying to unify the country in his inaugural address has created a debate in political circles about exactly what constitutes “unity.” These early executive orders meet one definition — adopting policies that a clear majority of Americans support, which necessitates that at least some Republicans back them. In fact, a few of these policies, such as requiring people to wear masks on federal property, have plurality support among Republicans. (On the other hand, many of Biden’s policies, such as trying to make sure noncitizens are counted in the U.S. Census, are extremely unpopular with Republicans.)

Secondly, the popularity of these orders with the public is another illustration of what public opinion has long suggested: Americans are divided into two roughly equal-sized camps in terms of electoral power — in part because structures such as the Senate and the Electoral College have skewed the vote toward Republicans, at least in recent years — but that divide does not always show up in terms of policy issues. For example, protecting undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children from deportation (the DACA program) has long had a fair amount of support from people who vote for and identify with the Republican Party, which tried to wind down DACA in the Trump era.

You might be skeptical of polling that seems favorable to Democrats after many polls in 2016 and 2020 underestimated GOP strength. But there are a number of recent examples of liberal policies being supported by voters who also back Republican candidates. This happened last fall in Florida, where a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour got 61 percent support, but the presidential candidate in favor of that idea, Biden, received only 48 percent. So I tend to think these numbers are reliable and that a bloc of Trump voters agrees with many of Biden’s new policies.

Thirdly, the popularity of these orders suggests that Biden will govern differently than his predecessor. In the case of many of these orders, Trump implemented a policy that polls clearly showed was unpopular and Biden is simply reversing it. Biden positioned himself during the Democratic primary as a candidate who would eschew controversial ideas to appeal to more centrist voters. And we are only a week into his presidency, but it looks like Biden is trying to follow through on his campaign approach.

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All that said, these early poll numbers don’t guarantee that Biden or his agenda will remain popular, nor that he will reshape federal policy as he wants. These orders were the low-hanging fruit left to Biden by Trump — a bunch of policies Trump put in place that were unpopular and Biden could reverse quickly. There probably aren’t dozens more policies that are popular and Biden could put in place without going through Congress. Also, Biden’s approval numbers are strong right now, but those numbers could be the result of the traditional (if diminished) honeymoon period that presidents get at the start of their terms, as opposed to Americans saying they like Biden because of the policies.

Finally, because these are executive orders, these policies don’t come with the power or money of legislation adopted by Congress. So Biden signing an executive order declaring that his administration will evaluate all policies to make sure they improve the nation’s racial equity is one thing, but actually adopting policies to improve the nation’s racial equity is much more complicated.

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Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.