Joe Biden really should do more press conferences, if for no other reason than to measure his connection to reality. Even apart from Biden’s stunning remarks about election legitimacy and NATO disunity on Ukraine, we have Biden insisting that he has “outperformed” on his campaign promises. The country has made “enormous progress” under his leadership, Biden declared:
Reporter: "Did you overpromise to the American public what you could achieve in your first year in office."
President Biden: "Why are you such an optimist? Look, I didn't overpromise, and I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen." pic.twitter.com/0gE0HLE02y
— The Hill (@thehill) January 20, 2022
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I know some of my colleagues will get into some specific issues, but I wanted to zoom out on your first year in office.
Inflation is up. Your signature domestic legislation is stalled in Congress. In a few hours from now, the Senate — an effort in the Senate to deal with voting rights and voting — voting reform legislation is going to fail. COVID-19 is taking the lives of 1,500 Americans every day. And the nation’s divisions are just as raw as they were a year ago. Did you overpromise to the American public what you could achieve in your first year in office? And how do you plan to course-correct going forward?
THE PRESIDENT: Why are you such an optimist? (Laughter.)
Look, I didn’t overpromise, but I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen. The fact of the matter is that we’re in a situation where we have made enormous progress. You mentioned the number of deaths from COVID; well, it was three times that not long ago. It’s coming down. Everything is changing. It’s getting better.
Coincidentally, both the New York Times and NBC News decided to test this conclusion. The NYT used a focus-group test of swing voters to see just how much progress they feel Biden has made in his first year as president. The answer is that they assess this as “the lowest point in my lifetime“:
How do independent voters feel about President Biden and America after his first year in office? Let’s put it this way: His weak approval ratings might go up if he pulled a Trump and just declared that America was moving on from the pandemic and he was going all in against inflation and high gas prices. Never mind about voting rights or avoiding another Jan. 6. It’s the economy, Joe.
So it seemed listening to a new Times Opinion focus group with 14 independent voters, who are far more worried about their finances than about Covid’s impact, as the transcript of the conversation below shows. …
The focus group was made up of people who had voted at least once for President Barack Obama and at least once for President Donald Trump. They were less furious about the state of the country than pessimistic about the future and dismissive about whether Mr. Biden and either party could improve things.
At least three of the fourteen participants endorsed the idea that this was the lowest point for America in their lifetimes. As for Biden’s claims to have outperformed expectations, none of the Luntz group bought it:
Frank Luntz: Does anyone here think that he’s exceeded your expectations?
[No one raises a hand.]
And this is telling in particular:
Patrick Healy: A show of hands — are you confident that President Biden and the Democrats have a plan to improve the economy, to deal with inflation?
[Nobody raises a hand.]
This is, however, a small sample group, as focus-group testing generally tends to use. It’s not statistically representative of the electorate, in other words. For that you’d need a poll with a substantial sample size, and we’re in luck there. NBC News polled one thousand adults, with a subset of 790 registered voters, and asked this very question. And the percentage of people who think Biden has outperformed expectations is … five percent:
Not only is that the worst result for a first-term president in the NBC series, so is the percentage of people who think Biden has done worse than expected (36%). The gap is profoundly wider than any other recent president, and Aaron Blake takes note of the comparison between Biden and his much-maligned predecessor:
NBC News is the latest to dust off this poll question. It found that just 5 percent of Americans said that Biden has been better than they expected, while 36 percent said he has been worse than they expected. That negative-31-point split lies between a USA Today poll from November, which found a 36-point split, and a newer AP-NORC poll which found a 25-point split.
Both NBC numbers are worse than in previous polling conducted by the organization on the past four presidents. The previous low-water mark for “better than expected” in its polling was Obama’s 12 percent in August 2010. The previous high-water mark for “worse than expected” was Obama’s 30 percent just ahead of his own one-year anniversary in office.
Looping in other infrequent uses of this question, Biden again stands out. According to a search using the Roper Center’s polling archive, about the only somewhat-comparable split was an NPR poll around Obama’s first anniversary which found that 10 percent said he was doing better than expected, while 29 percent said he was doing worse than expected — a 19-point negative split. Even the historically unpopular Donald Trump, a year into his presidency, had a 21-35 split in Gallup’s polling.
One point that applies to both presidents, too, is where expectations started. Expectations for both were low, thanks both to polarization and concerns over competency. Trump was a novice at politics, and Biden had been around long enough to have landed on the wrong side of a lot of issues. Trump ended up scoring a +2 overall in the performance-against-expectations gap, very likely because of the low expectations for him outside of his base.
Biden set his own expectations as a uniter and a centrist deal-maker, and then later changed those to being a transformative president in the FDR/LBJ mold. Most voters likely just expected him to dial down the chaos and dial up the cooperation. Biden hasn’t outperformed in any of these areas, which is why his -31 in the gap is even more significant. All he had to do was not be Trump, and he’s failing miserably nonetheless, especially against expectations.
And it’s also worth noting that this poll isn’t even one of the worse results Biden has gotten lately. It puts his approval rating at 43/54, much better than Quinnipiac’s 35/54 and Trafalgar’s 39/59. Almost all of the latest job approval numbers show a double-digit deficit for Biden now, and the RCP track is going in the wrong direction again:
Biden’s claim of outperforming expectations reminds us of his status as a legend in his own mind. And with that level of self-delusion still present, Democrats should only expect the disconnect with voters to continue to grow in direct proportion to Biden’s disconnect with reality.