Fifty-seven percent of Americans approve of the job Joe Biden is doing as president in Gallup's first measurement of the 46th president. That is just below the average 60% rating for post-World War II presidents elected to their first term.
Biden's 37% disapproval rating is among the highest for a president's first reading, second only to Donald Trump's 45%. Americans were much more inclined to form early judgments -- good or bad -- of these two most recent presidents than their predecessors, with no opinion responses typically exceeding 20% for presidents prior to 2017.
Biden's initial job approval rating is similar to those of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, while it is better than those of Trump, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower all had higher ratings than Biden, with two-thirds or more of Americans approving of their performance at the beginning of their presidencies.
The Biden data come from a Jan. 21-Feb. 2 Gallup poll. The new president has spent much of his early days in office trying to address the coronavirus pandemic by developing a nationwide strategy to confront the virus and vaccinate the public. He is also marshaling support for a coronavirus relief bill. He has signed a number of executive orders, many undoing actions undertaken by the Trump administration.
Biden's first job approval rating is 11 percentage points lower than his final approval rating for handling his presidential transition. That is a similar difference to what Gallup measured for Obama (15 points lower), George W. Bush (10 points) and Clinton (10 points). Trump's last transition approval rating (45%) and first job approval rating were similar.
Biden receives near unanimous approval from his fellow Democrats, at 98%, and a solid 61% approval rating among political independents. But Republicans are unlikely to approve of Biden, with 11% doing so while 85% disapprove.
Biden's initial approval rating is more divergent by party than any other recent president, with only Trump coming close. Both Biden and Trump had low ratings from supporters of the other party, but Biden's approval rating is more polarized than Trump's because he gets higher ratings among Democrats than Trump did among Republicans, 98% to 90%.
The greater party gaps for Trump and Biden indicate that initial evaluations of presidents are more influenced by Americans' party identification now than in the past, particularly among those who identify with the opposition party.
Biden's initial ratings are notable from a broader historical perspective as well. George W. Bush is the only other president in Gallup records dating back to the Eisenhower administration to receive an approval rating of 98% from his own party's supporters. Bush registered several 98% and 99% approval ratings among Republicans in the days and weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Also, the 87-point gap in Biden job approval by party is among the highest Gallup has measured for a president in any survey. The record is 92 percentage points for Trump last year before the presidential election. Trump had been the only president to have a party gap of 87 points or more in approval, having done so on nine separate occasions, all last year.
Should Biden continue to receive strong backing from Democrats and limited support from Republicans, he would rival Trump for having the most polarized approval ratings historically. While Biden cannot improve upon his current rating among Democrats, his approval among Republicans can erode further, as single digit approval ratings among supporters of the opposition party have been common since 2006.
What sets Biden apart from Trump now is that he fares much better among independents than Trump did in his initial rating, 61% to 40%. In fact, Trump struggled to attract independent support throughout his presidency, never exceeding 47% approval among this group. Trump's highly polarized ratings from the start of his presidency and his limited support among independents combined to deny him the traditional honeymoon period of higher ratings for new presidents.
Beyond Democrats, Biden's support is greatest among political liberals (92%) and non-Whites (80%). His approval rating is also close to 70% among young adults, political moderates, college graduates, city residents and lower-income Americans.
There is a double-digit gender gap in Biden's job approval rating, with 63% of women versus 52% of men approving.
In addition to his low rating from Republicans, Biden's approval rating is below 50% among political conservatives (25%), town and rural residents (43%), non-Hispanic White Americans (47%) and those 65 years and older (49%).
Biden's first job approval rating looks fairly typical compared with past presidents, though his ratings diverge from most other presidents in having a higher disapproval rating and much lower proportion not expressing an opinion either way.
Even in a highly polarized political environment, Biden appears to be enjoying a modest honeymoon thanks to solid support among independents and near unanimous support among his fellow Democrats. The goodwill among those groups is enough to offset a record-low 11% initial job approval from the opposition party.
Republicans' low initial support for Biden is a strong indicator that the nation will remain politically polarized. Gallup first measured an approval rating below 10% from the opposition party late in George W. Bush's first term. Single digit approval from the opposition has been common since then.
With essentially no room to improve among Democrats, and early indications that Biden will struggle to get more than 10% approval from Republicans, 57% overall approval may be near the ceiling Biden can expect to receive. The key to maintaining majority approval for Biden, important for his reelection chances down the road, rests with him staying in independents' good graces.