Last year, President Joe Biden ripped his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, for having a slippery relationship with the truth. Now a majority of the public harbors similar concerns about Biden as his first 12 months in office come to a close.
Quinnipiac University's national polls capture a staggering double-digit erosion of public trust in Biden as the president, who campaigned on competence in 2020, struggles to keep fundamental election promises, including getting the COVID-19 pandemic "under control."
A majority of respondents told Quinnipiac pollsters last month they did not believe Biden is not honest, compared to 42% who did. That 51% represents a bump of 1 percentage point from October. At that time, 44% thought he was honest. But it is a 12-point spike from Quinnipiac's inaugural survey of the Biden presidency in February, when a majority considered him to be honest.
Biden’s lackluster poll numbers reflect, in part, the multitude of setbacks he has experienced during the past year, from Afghanistan to COVID-19, according to political commentator Costas Panagopoulos.
Yet “even as Biden's honesty rating has dropped since the spring, he is still perceived to be about as honest as Obama was and far more honest than Trump ever was,” he said.
However, Biden’s problem is the public has "short memories and can be unforgiving," according to Suffolk University Political Research Center director David Paleologos.
"A candidate's failure to deliver on campaign promises directly impacts the opinions of voters on job approval, favorability, or honesty,” he said. “No other senator, staffer, or situation matters. When you are president, that is where the buck stops."
To that end, Panagopoulos agreed, adding that Biden is trapped in a vicious cycle because he will lose political capital "if his ratings continue to slide.”
Biden's honesty poll numbers, along with the public’s perception of the country's direction, whether the president cares about "average Americans," and whether he demonstrates strong leadership, all feed into his overall job approval data. And his average approval has been in net negative territory since August, according to an analysis from RealClearPolitics.
Biden's initial foray into net negative approval coincided with his deadly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Yet many pollsters and political strategists cite his COVID-19 response as the reason for his decline in popularity. And his standing is unlikely to improve, at least in the near term, as the omicron variant threatens to upend holiday plans and the world prepares for a third year of pandemic-hampered life.
"I know you’re tired — I really mean this — and I know you’re frustrated. We all want this to be over. But we’re still in it, and this is a critical moment," Biden said Tuesday. "We also have more tools than we’ve ever had before. We’re ready. We’ll get through this."
COVID-19 is not Biden's only credibility test. In addition to his hands-off approach to ethical dilemmas created by his family's business dealings and his spin of the day's news, the public is questioning Biden's word after West Virginia's Joe Manchin, a centrist senator from the president's own party, this week derailed his legislative agenda, according to Brooking Institution’s Darrell West.
“The failure of 'Build Back Better' will hurt him, as will the resurgence of COVID,” the think tank’s governance studies vice president said. “They will [lead] some to conclude he is not doing what he said he would do.”
Negotiations over the president's $2.4 trillion social welfare and climate spending legislation have been wrought by trust issues. For example, liberal congressional Democrats wanted the partisan proposal passed “in tandem” with Biden and Manchin’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal to help it clear the Senate.
Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the House’s top liberal lawmaker, reminded the White House this week of Biden’s promise to wrangle the votes for the legislation.
“We trust the president to follow through on that promise and that he and the Senate will continue working until he can,” she said.
Trust between Biden and Manchin is also at stake. White House press secretary Jen Psaki slammed Manchin last weekend for pulling his support of the bill during a Sunday TV interview, issuing a searing 700-word statement in response. She and Biden later tried to tamp down the White House's criticism of the Trump-state senator.
"Does the president still trust Sen. Manchin?" a reporter asked Psaki this week.
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"Sen. Manchin had a strong statement yesterday, and we had a strong statement as well," she replied. "We're ready to move forward and get this done and work like hell to do that with Sen. Manchin, with members of the Democratic caucus, across the Democratic Party. And that's our focus: moving forward."