Republicans don’t like President Biden very much. Among Republicans, his approval rating sits somewhere between 10 and 20 percent in most recent surveys, and his disapproval rating hovers between 75 to 90 percent.
On the one hand, there’s nothing that unusual about members of the other party holding disproportionately negative attitudes about the president. Democrats similarly really disliked former President Trump. Biden’s topline approval rating also isn’t that bad — he’s currently at 53 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval, per FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker — thanks to positive opinions of the president among Democrats (overwhelmingly) and independents (albeit marginally).
Yet, there is something different about GOP opposition to Biden, something that has only emerged as a trend in recent years: Most Republicans don’t just disapprove of the job Biden is doing as president — they strongly disapprove of his job performance.1
We looked at presidential approval polling data from the first six months of presidencies dating back to George W. Bush and found that, compared to Bush’s early tenure, fewer Americans from the opposing party are lukewarm in their disapproval of the president. Meanwhile, the share of respondents who say they strongly disapprove of the president has trended upward during Trump and Biden’s time in office. Consider that only around 3 in 10 Democrats strongly disapproved of Bush during the first six months of his presidency, but more than 6 in 10 Republicans have expressed strong disapproval of Biden over the first roughly five months of his time in office.
|Average of opposing party attitudes|
|President||Strongly approve||Somewhat approve||Somewhat disapprove||Strongly disapprove|
|George W. Bush||11%||23%||22%||31%|
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his abysmal overall approval rating, Trump had the most damning strong disapproval rating, on average, with 72 percent of Democrats saying they disapproved of his job as president. But Biden isn’t that much better off than Trump, as a similar share of the Republicans who disapprove of Biden do so strongly.
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Members from the other party were once more willing to give a new president some benefit of the doubt early on — or at least, their opposition was not quite so baked in, as the figures for both Bush and Barack Obama suggest. What’s more, there hasn’t been a corresponding change in how strongly the president’s own party feels about him. Members of the president’s party overwhelmingly support him, but there hasn’t been an uptick in those who say they strongly approve of him.
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This lack of crossover support for presidents in their first term in office points toward one of the most animating forces in American politics today: Increased disdain and hatred of one’s political opponents, known as “negative partisanship.” As the chart below shows, opinions about the other party have become far more unfavorable since the late 1970s. In other words, it’s not that surprising that Americans are far less likely to approve of — and more likely to intensely dislike — presidents from the other party right from the moment they take office.
Such hostile sentiments reflect a world in which each major party increasingly believes the other poses a threat to the country’s well-being. Consider that in 2019, the Pew Research Center found that about three-fourths of Americans thought that Democrats and Republicans not only disagreed over plans and policies, but that they also couldn’t agree on basic facts. This is certainly borne out in attitudes toward the economy: Democrats thought the economy was immediately doing worse once Trump took office, while Republicans immediately thought it was getting worse after Biden won the 2020 election. And in the lead-up to the 2020 contest, Pew also found that about 9 in 10 of both Biden and Trump supporters felt that the victory of the other party’s presidential nominee would lead to lasting harm, a sign of how each side increasingly finds the other to be an unacceptable political alternative.
Looking ahead, such deep dislike will likely keep Republicans opposed to Biden regardless of his administration’s actions. It also means that like Trump, Biden will likely have to rely on his own party’s support to buoy his overall numbers. So far, Biden has managed to pull that off with approval from around 90 percent of Democrats, but fierce Republican opposition might mean that his overall approval rating moves only by small degrees, like Trump’s, making it hard for him to crack the mid-50s overall.
Now, it’s possible that a major crisis could weaken Democratic approval toward Biden, much like the onset of the Great Recession helped take Republican approval of Bush below 70 percent for much of the end of his presidency. However, Trump’s overall approval rating and approval among Republicans remained relatively unchanged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that a majority of Americans didn’t think Trump was handling the coronavirus response well.
So as Biden closes in on six months in office, it’s clear that attitudes toward his presidency are sharply polarized, with Republicans’ intense dislike of Biden reflecting what we know about the deep antipathy that Americans feel toward the opposing party — even in the first few months of a president’s time in office. Those are sentiments that are likely to keep both camps more firmly entrenched in their partisan camps moving forward.
Mary Radcliffe contributed research.