President Joe Biden’s first calendar year in office has come to a close, and the early marks aren’t encouraging. His job approval rating ranges from 16-17 points underwater, according to Republican-leaning pollsters Trafalgar Group and Rasmussen Reports, respectively, to 8 to 10 points underwater, according to Economist/YouGov and Politico/Morning Consult.

The RealClearPolitics polling average finds 53.4% disapprove of Biden’s performance as president. FiveThirtyEight has Biden at 51.8% disapproval to 43.1% approval. Biden's popularity is even lower on issues such as immigration, crime, and gun violence. In addition, Biden is averaging 55.3% disapproval on the economy.

In a December PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll, two-thirds of independents disapproved of Biden. About half strongly disapproved. “Both numbers are up at least 30 points since he took office,” reported PBS’s Matt Loffman. “Just 29 percent of independents approve of his job performance.”

Less than a year away from the midterm elections, the implications for the president’s party are clear. Seven of the last 10 polls included in the RealClearPolitics average show Republicans leading on the generic congressional ballot, in which respondents are asked to pick which party they want to see control Congress, with two ties and only one Democratic lead. The average is a 2.4-point GOP lead, with Democrats taking just 41.7% of the vote.

Despite the intense political polarization and a surprisingly competitive 2020 election — Republicans gained seats in the House, it took a pair of Georgia runoffs to produce a deadlocked Senate, and former President Donald Trump came within 43,000 votes in three battleground states of forcing an Electoral College tie — there were early signs of optimism for Biden. The vaccines had been approved, the economy was reopening, and the Capitol riot of Jan. 6 had left a sour taste even in many Republicans’ mouths.

After a tumultuous four years with a brash and unconventional reality TV star president, there was hope that a 48-year Washington insider could at least deliver normalcy. The man Jeb Bush had dubbed the “chaos candidate” was gone from the White House.

But the chaos remained. The situation at the border deteriorated almost instantly, with an uncontrolled migrant surge in the southwest and the detention of unaccompanied minors. Democrats controlled everything, but not by margins sufficient to make legislating easy, as the dwindling band of centrists held outsize power.

Cities that saw new records in homicides during the presidential election year broke them again in 2021. Even as the unemployment rate dropped, however fitfully, workers dropped out of the labor force. Inflation approached a 40-year high and gobbled up real income growth. Supply chains were bottlenecked. Afghanistan fell back into the hands of the Taliban weeks before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that led to a long U.S. war originally overthrowing them.

It was this last development, occurring amid a withdrawal from Afghanistan, that in principle had bipartisan support that coincided with the drop in Biden’s job approval ratings. A USA Today/Suffolk poll taken in the aftermath showed Biden declining to 41% approving of his performance.

"Today, President Biden's overall approval has taken a turn for the worse due to his awful job performance rating on Afghanistan," David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk Political Research Center, said as those results were announced. "His approval on immigration and the economy are also upside down. The only issue keeping him remotely in the game is his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, where he is barely at 50%."

By the end of 2021, even that area of relative strength was in doubt. The omicron wave was the latest coronavirus variant to spike case numbers, hitting especially hard in Democratic bastions such as New York and Washington, D.C. It was no longer a pandemic of the unvaccinated or the red states, and, per Biden, the federal government no longer had all the answers.

"Look, there is no federal solution. This gets solved at the state level," Biden told the nation’s governors. "And then ultimately gets down to where the rubber meets the road, and that's where the patient is in need of help or preventing the need for help."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut back the recommended isolation time for asymptomatic people who tested positive, raising eyebrows. "It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told CNN after a question about whether business drove the decision as much as the science.

Biden insisted that no one could have anticipated the COVID-19 variants or prevented the Afghanistan chaos. He vowed to press forward with a stalled legislative agenda that didn’t have the votes, drawing on his 36 years in the Senate. But the year ended with voters wondering whether the president knew what he was doing.