- Only Jimmy Carter had a lower third-year average
- Current job approval rating for Biden is 41%
- 78-point Democratic-Republican gap in Year 3 ties for fifth largest
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- During President Joe Biden’s third full year in office, spanning Jan. 20, 2023, to Jan. 19, 2024, an average of 39.8% of Americans approved of his job performance. Among prior presidents in the Gallup polling era who were elected to their first term, only Jimmy Carter fared worse in his third year. Carter averaged 37.4% approval in a year in which gas prices soared, inflation reached double digits and Iranian militants took U.S. citizens hostage.
Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon also had sub-50% third-year averages. Dwight Eisenhower’s 72.1% is the highest for a third-year president.
Biden’s third-year average was lower than both his first-year (48.9%) and second-year (41.0%) averages. Though better than his third-year average, his first- and second-year ratings also ranked as the second lowest for recent presidents, ahead of only Trump in both years.
Gallup’s latest job approval rating for Biden, from a Jan. 2-22 survey, is 41%, while 54% disapprove of how he is performing his job. Since September 2021, after the troubled withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Biden’s approval rating has ranged from the high 30s to low 40s. Before that, during the first six months of his presidency, he enjoyed majority-level approval ratings.
The new Gallup poll finds 83% of Democrats, 35% of independents and 6% of Republicans approving of the job Biden is doing, consistent with his recent job approval ratings by party.
About Half of Recent Presidents Saw Improved Ratings in Fourth Year
A key question for Biden, as he seeks reelection, is whether his job approval rating can be expected to improve this year. The historical evidence is mixed, based on a comparison of elected presidents’ third- and fourth-year job approval averages.
- Four presidents -- Nixon (+7 percentage points), Reagan (+11 points), Clinton (+8 points) and Obama (+4 points) -- saw meaningful improvement in their fourth year, and all four won reelection.
- Three presidents saw no significant change -- including the extremely popular Eisenhower, who won reelection, but also Carter and Trump, who were defeated for a second term.
- Two presidents -- George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush -- saw their approval ratings nosedive in their fourth year. The elder Bush lost his reelection bid after a 28-point drop, while the younger Bush, whose rating declined nine points, won.
The data indicate that presidents who successfully won reelection were close to -- or exceeded -- 50% approval during their fourth year in office.
Biden’s Ratings Continue to Be Among the Most Polarized
During Biden’s third year in office, an average of 83% of Democrats and 5% of Republicans approved of the job he was doing, a 78-point party gap. Among third-year presidents, only Trump had greater party splits in his job approval ratings, averaging 82 points.
The increase in party polarization of presidential job approval ratings is underscored by the average 37-point partisan gap for presidents through the elder Bush, compared with 69 points for presidents in the past 30 years. This change has largely been fueled by increasingly lower job approval ratings from supporters of the opposition party, which now typically register in the single digits but were closer to 30% in the past.
Biden’s third-year party figures duplicate those from his second year in office and tie as the fifth most polarized annual average for any president. Trump’s fourth year, covering most of 2020 and early 2021, holds the record for the biggest average party gap in job approval ratings. That year, 91% of Republicans and 6% of Democrats approved of the job he was doing.
Together, Biden and Trump, the likely opponents in this year’s presidential election, account for the six most polarized presidential years. Trump’s first year, when fewer Republicans approved of him than did so later in his term, ranks 10th.
Biden begins his reelection campaign with a job approval rating significantly below the 50% mark that has been associated with winning a second term. And while some presidents have seen sharp improvements in their fourth year and won a second term, Biden’s third-year rating was worse than any of theirs, suggesting he has a bigger hill to climb.
The president may see some modest gains in approval if the Democrats who disapprove of him come back into the fold. That pattern typically occurs in a presidential election year -- among prior presidents, all but the two Bushes saw higher ratings from their party’s supporters in their third than fourth year in office.
However, the key to Biden’s winning reelection may lie more in convincing a larger share of independents that he is doing a good job and is deserving of a second term. His approval rating among independents has mostly been below 40% since the fall of 2021 but was above 50% during the honeymoon phase of his presidency.
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