When President Joe Biden was running for office, he adopted the slogan “America is Back” as a rallying cry. It’s been one year since Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2021. How did the Biden administration fare in its first year? Did Biden fulfill the promises he made on the campaign trail? Do Americans approve or disapprove of his first-year performance?
The latest poll numbers show nearly half of Americans are dissatisfied with his first-year performance — and his poll numbers are trending downward. Many foreign media outlets have reported that Biden has handled both domestic and foreign policy issues poorly.
Biden Exaggerates ‘Achievements’; Americans Reluctant To Approve
On Jan. 19, Biden held a press conference in the East Room of the White House. During the conference, which lasted an hour and 50 minutes, Biden spoke about his many domestic and foreign policy “achievements.” He described his first year in office as follows: “It’s been a year of challenges, but it’s also been a year of enormous progress.” However, the American people are far from satisfied with Biden’s performance thus far.
A recent Gallup poll showed that Biden “achieved” a 48.9% job approval rating for his first year as president. The Hill noted that this figure lags behind the first-year ratings of many former U.S. presidents.* The results of a Quinnipiac University poll published on Jan. 12 showed Biden’s approval rating at just 33%. According to this figure, Biden is among the least popular U.S. presidents compared with other presidents after their first years in the White House. In a mid-January poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 56% of respondents said they were dissatisfied with Biden’s performance; only 28% hoped Biden would serve a second term.**
Time magazine also commented on Biden’s struggles, writing that American voters are widely questioning Biden’s leadership ability at a time when the U.S. is facing a crisis of historic proportions. Not only that, his leadership has even led high-ranking members of his own party to lose confidence in him.
Why has Biden struggled to earn the approval of the American public and some of his fellow Democratic politicians? Wang Yong, professor at the Peking University School of International Studies and director of the Peking University American Studies Center, offered his own analysis. Wang believes Biden failed to make progress on the issues that receive the most attention in the U.S. — the issues that directly affect the lives of most American voters. At the same time, the Biden administration has faced a pandemic that has repeatedly returned to wreak havoc even after appearing to dissipate. The persistence of COVID-19 has drastically affected the American public’s evaluation of the federal government’s competence.
“The Biden administration’s efforts to revitalize the economy during the pandemic have been offset by high inflation that shows no signs of relenting,” Wang said. “The inflation has diminished any sense of relief Americans might have felt due to Biden’s policies. The economic stimulus plan rolled out by the administration has actually aggravated wealth inequality in America, which was severe to begin with.”
And what about Biden’s diplomatic “achievements” in his first year? According to Foreign Policy magazine, many American foreign affairs experts believe the crisis in Ukraine has eclipsed Biden’s efforts to mend relations with European allies. They also think that America’s chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan left a stain on Biden’s foreign policy record. At the same time, the Biden administration’s foreign relations strategy has caused U.S. relations with other leading nations to deteriorate.
Wang points out that the Biden administration is attempting to mold U.S. foreign policy into a weapon for cracking down on perceived geopolitical enemies. Wang thinks this approach is not only detrimental to fostering cooperation within the international community to combat COVID-19 collectively, but it also does nothing to solve America’s domestic problems. Biden has asked certain countries to join the U.S. in forming a “security alliance.” He continues to brandish the “big stick” of sanctions as a threat to other countries. America’s course of action runs counter to the tide of history, and its decisions will only sap the U.S. government’s energy.
A Disconnect between Policy and Reality as Domestic Schisms Intensify
Liu Yongtao, professor at the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, offered his analysis of why U.S. presidents are hard-pressed to produce a “report card” that will win the approval of the American public. He believes that the primary causes are political chaos and social ills accumulated over years of neglect.
“Over time,” Liu said, “the U.S. president has become the president of only some Americans rather than the president of all Americans. Under these circumstances, the occupant of the Oval Office will find it difficult to heal schisms between political factions and resolve deep-seated societal issues.” Liu believes that America’s political polarization is already severe, and its effects may continue into the 2024 presidential election.
Wang agrees with Liu’s assertion. Wang notes that when congressional Republicans thwarted bills put forth by the Biden administration, their goal was to obstruct the Democrats from governing successfully. Their efforts blocked Biden from effectively responding to current political, economic and social issues that desperately need to be resolved.
Politico also reports that Biden’s relationship with Sen. Bernie Sanders has taken a turn for the worse. Sanders is a leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The news of increased friction between Biden and Sanders comes after American media revealed a rift between Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris last year.
“Intra-party fighting was once a longstanding taboo in American political culture,” Liu said. “But as America’s societal conflicts intensify, the intra-party division will also intensify. The antagonistic attitudes and non-cooperative strategies adopted by the two major parties are damaging, and intra-party conflict is at least equally destructive, if not more so.”
Liu also points out that U.S. domestic and foreign policy decisions are so out of touch with reality primarily because of the cold war mentality deeply ingrained in American politics. The Biden administration is doing its utmost to maintain America’s influence in the international community; simultaneously, the U.S. refuses to let go of this cold war mindset. U.S. politicians adopt an aggressive stance toward perceived geopolitical enemies. The U.S. attempts to rally its allies under the banner of abstract “values.” However, these efforts only increase skepticism about whether these “American values” have any real substance. According to Liu, American political circles are oblivious to enormous changes occurring in the international order. Against this backdrop, if America continues to emphasize abstraction over pragmatism, it may very well face more conflicts and challenges in the future.
Ling Xi is Nanfang Daily’s Beijing correspondent.
*Translator’s Note: Gallup’s recent report includes a list of first-year approval ratings for all elected U.S. presidents since Dwight Eisenhower. Biden ranks second to last on the list, ahead of only Donald Trump, and he ranks slightly behind Bill Clinton, who received a 49.3% approval rating. The list excludes Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford, who succeeded to the presidency and served their first years in office after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Richard Nixon’s resignation, respectively.
**Translator’s Note: The Nanfang Daily mistakenly reported that, according to the poll, 28% of Americans hoped Biden would run for office again in 2024. The actual figure from AP-NORC was 29%.