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Early Support and High Hopes for President Joe Biden

Mark Baldassare February 26, 2021
photo - White House

As Californians are learning about their new leader’s team and agenda, most give their support and have high hopes for President Joe Biden.

Biden currently enjoys broad approval in California. In the January PPIC Statewide Survey—which included 1,703 adults and was conducted during the 11 days immediately after the inauguration—70% of Californians approve of the way that Biden is handling his job as president. About six in ten or more across age, education, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups and regions say they approve of Biden from what they know so far. Indicative of our hyperpartisan times, this includes 89% of Democrats and 65% of independents, but only 24% of Republicans.

Figure - President Biden Has Broad Support across California’s Regions

Biden fares well on top-of-mind concerns. Californians have been saying that COVID-19 is the most important issue facing the state since we began asking about it last spring. Today, 71% of Californians approve of the way that Biden is handling the coronavirus outbreak and, once again, solid majorities support him across demographic groups and regions. The partisan gap on this issue narrows somewhat, with 33 % of Republicans expressing approval, compared to 89% of Democrats and 67% of independents.

Even more impressive are the high hopes for President Biden and Congress, especially because Californians have lately held such pessimistic views of the federal government. With Democrats in control of the executive and both legislative branches, 69% say that President Biden and the US Congress will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year. Solid majorities across regions and demographic groups—and 37% of Republicans, 64% of independents, and 79% of Democrats—hold this view. In our January 2020 survey, just 18% said that President Donald Trump and Congress would be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year. The current levels of optimism reverse a downward slide (25% January 2019, 29% January 2018, 50% January 2017) that includes periods when Republicans controlled the executive and both legislative branches.

With Biden in office, Californians are also feeling hopeful about what comes next: 58% have a great deal (28%) or good amount (30%) of confidence that he will make the right decisions for the country’s future. Majorities across age, education, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups and regions hold this view. Interestingly, Latinos (71%), African Americans (66%), and Asian Americans (60%) are more likely than whites (51%) to express confidence in Biden, while partisans are deeply divided (83% Democrats, 52% independents, 12% Republicans). When President Trump entered office, 28% of Californians expressed a great deal (15%), or good amount (13%) of confidence that he would make the right decisions for the country, according to our January 2017 survey.

Remarkably, in the context of the pandemic, economic recession, political divisions, and amplified concerns about racial injustice that have surfaced in the past year, President Biden begins his term with 52% of Californians saying the US is generally headed in the right direction. Underlying this narrowly positive assessment are deep divisions along party lines (64% Democrats, 43% independents, 24% Republicans) and across racial/ethnic groups (64% Latinos, 54% Asian Americans, 41% whites, 40% African Americans). Still, the view that the US is headed in the right direction is much higher today than it was before the election (33% October 2020) and when President Trump entered office (36% January 2017).

Figure - Half of Californians Think Country Is Headed in Right Direction but Views Vary by Race/Ethnicity

In sum, Californians are in a honeymoon phase with their new leader, and their positive views are buoyed by a majority (58%) saying the worst of COVID-19 is behind us. But Californians are aware of the political challenges in the wake of a contested election, another presidential impeachment, and the Capitol insurrection. Forty-four percent say the country will be able to unite behind Biden, who will accomplish a lot, while 51% say the country will be divided, and it will be hard for Biden to accomplish a lot.

In the coming months, PPIC will be monitoring President Biden’s efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis, related economic recession, and long-standing problems related to climate change, education, health care, immigration, and racial injustice. We will also be closely tracking the relationship between Californians and their government, with a keen interest in learning if current public opinion trends are temporary or the harbinger of a new political era.

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