Why Biden’s approval rating is sinking and how Americans view democracy, justice

A new national poll paints a troubling picture of an American electorate worried about the future of democracy, sharply divided on issues of personal freedom and dissatisfied with President Joe Biden's leadership. Judy Woodruff walks through the results with Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Company, which wrote the poll in collaboration with Grinnell College.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new national poll paints a troubling picture of an American electorate worried about the future of democracy, sharply divided on issues of personal freedom, and dissatisfied with President Biden's leadership.

    Here to walk us through the result is Ann Selzer. She is the president of Selzer & Company, which wrote the poll, in collaboration with Grinnell College.

    Ann Selzer, welcome back to the "NewsHour." It's very good to see you.

    A number of striking things here to ask you about, starting with this question about people's trust in our democracy. You have — what we find in these results is the majority of Americans saying that they believe democracy is facing a major threat. And we see that number driven by Republicans; 71 percent of them think that's true, compared to 35 percent of Democrats.

    What do you see is driving this?

    J. Ann Selzer, Selzer & Company, Inc.: Well, the reason we wanted to go after this was a focus by Grinnell College on looking at the health of American democracy.

    So we went at it from sideways issues, but this is hitting it head on. Do you perceive that American democracy is under major threat, minor threat or really no threat at all?

    And there have been sobering conversations on both sides of the aisle about what the threat currently is. And I think the findings of this poll reveals that, at the heart, the bigger perceived threat is Republicans listening to the talk about the election being stolen, about the electoral system being broken.

    And that has really set in, in a way that makes them believe that democracy is a major threat. Democrats are not nearly as roiled up about a sense of doom for the democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating.

    And, as you say, we have seen a lot of conversation, a lot of editorials written about the threats to democracy on the Democratic side, so, so interesting to see these results.

    Ann Selzer, you asked about President Biden, . We see in what you found he's facing some of his lowest approval ratings yet. He's 37 percent approval, 50 percent disapproving. Which voters, what issues do you see behind this?

  • J. Ann Selzer:

    Right.

    Well, in terms of issues, we ask for approval ratings in how he's doing with immigration, which — where he scored very poorly, just 27 percent approving. We also took a look at how he's doing with COVID. And, sadly, this is — you might say, is the high watermark for him. He still doesn't get 50 percent approval on how he's doing with COVID. And that's his benchmark issue.

    He also only gets 36 percent approval with the economy. And as the economy goes, so goes the president's standing. So it's no surprise that that number, at 36, is almost exactly what his overall numbers are for approval.

    Two groups I would call out. One is that he is gets more disapproval by a lot with independents than approval, so it's almost a 2-1 ratio, twice as many disapproving as approving. And independents were crucial to his electoral success.

    He is also underwater, not by as much, but with women. And women throughout the campaign were of his strongest supporters. He does better with suburban women, but not exactly a lot to be proud of. It's 46 to 38 percent more approving than disapproving, but he's not even halfway with suburban women, and they were a bulwark of his campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They certainly were. So interesting to see that.

    You also asked about trust in, I guess you could say community leaders. You asked people to weigh in on how much they trust, have confidence in people like doctors, police officers, teachers, other civil servants. And you saw a lot of political divide here.

  • J. Ann Selzer:

    And that was so fascinating, and maybe confirmed what we might have already suspected, but in big, big numbers.

    So the one group that was tested that uniformly, regardless of your party identification, tested very well were nurses, 68 percent saying they have high trust, very little difference by party, among Democrats, also about that high, doctors and scientists, over 60 percent saying they have high trust.

    But among Republicans, it's just 28 percent who say they have high trust in scientists. And, again, once you see these numbers, it sort of unpacks the things that people have been talking about and saying all along, that the approach for the Democrats, which put a lot of stake in the ability of doctors and scientists to communicate about COVID, what these data are saying is, the Republicans are not buying it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we saw I think in that same question very low levels of confidence in federal employees.

    One other thing I do want to ask you about is the Supreme Court. You asked respondents about whether they think — what they think drives the decisions that the justices make; 62 percent, bipartisan, think the court's decisions are driven by politics and would support 15-year terms, term limits for members of the court.

    Really interesting.

  • J. Ann Selzer:

    Well, and especially interesting, Judy, given the makeup of the court, was that there was very little difference, whether you were a Republican, a Democrat or independent, that 62 percent number of saying that they felt decisions were based on the political views of the justices, rather than the Constitution and law.

    That came across very evenly, as did the idea of perhaps making a change of how justices are appointed to have a fixed term. Maybe it's 15 years. There was equal support for that, 62 percent, again, very little partisan difference.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That is a number — that assumption that the court driven by politics, that is a number that we are clearly seeing rise.

    Ann Selzer, again, so many interesting pieces of this — of this poll to look at.

    Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

  • J. Ann Selzer:

    My pleasure.

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