Biden Underwater: A look at the President’s Standing among Texas Voters on the eve of the State of the Union Address

The State of the Union address is a chance for presidents to frame their successes, condition their failures, and overall, try to affect the trajectory of one’s presidency by shaping public awareness and congressional support for the president’s agenda. (Research suggests that presidents’ success in meeting these goals is mixed, though as with many things regarding the presidency, the evidence is pretty limited.) 

President Joe Biden faces challenges on multiple fronts that make it highly unlikely, or at least highly challenging, for this year's State of the Union address to overcome a broadly negative political mood in a midterm election year. The reception of Biden’s speech will likely be powerfully shaped by broad disapproval of political leaders and, well, the literal state of the union. Even the context of writing the address has likely been extra stressful for Biden and his team this year. They will be required to rewrite a speech they have been working on for weeks to reflect the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the global geopolitical, economic, and humanitarian crises now unfolding, which have the world looking to the U.S., and so to Biden, for leadership. Being the president of the United States is an honor and a great job, so no one should feel sorry for Biden. But it’s a tough gig this year.

The address will land among a Texas audience largely negative about the state of the country, the national economy, and American democracy writ large, in a midterm election year in which his party is widely expected to take a drubbing absent some fundamental change in the political landscape. 

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PollRight DirectionWrong Track
October 200935%59%
February 201031%56%
May 201027%62%
September 201026%63%
October 201025%64%
February 201126%59%
May 201124%63%
October 201114%75%
February 201228%61%
May 201225%61%
October 201231%58%
February 201329%62%
June 201328%60%
October 201320%69%
February 201425%63%
June 201423%65%
October 201425%65%
February 201526%59%
June 201523%64%
November 201522%68%
February 201622%66%
June 201618%70%
October 201622%67%
February 201739%49%
June 201734%54%
October 201729%61%
February 201839%50%
June 201841%47%
October 201842%49%
February 201939%53%
June 201940%50%
October 201937%54%
February 202040%49%
April 202039%52%
June 202030%62%
October 202029%62%
February 202131%56%
April 202132%57%
June 202131%57%
August 202125%64%
October 202120%70%
February 202223%66%
April 202223%66%

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PollBetterSame Compared to a Year AgoWorse
October 200924%16%59%
February 201028%19%52%
May 201028%24%47%
September 201023%21%54%
October 201022%20%56%
February 201127%30%41%
May 201122%26%49%
October 201114%25%59%
February 201229%30%39%
May 201228%29%39%
October 201232%25%42%
June 201335%31%33%
October 201325%25%49%
February 201429%28%40%
June 201431%26%41%
October 201431%30%37%
February 201536%33%29%
June 201531%33%34%
November 201532%28%37%
February 201630%27%40%
June 201626%29%40%
October 201628%29%40%
February 201740%36%20%
June 201742%30%25%
October 201743%33%22%
February 201853%26%19%
June 201851%23%22%
October 201851%26%19%
February 201949%23%24%
June 201947%23%26%
October 201945%24%24%
February 202048%25%24%
April 202021%11%64%
June 202017%10%70%
October 202017%13%67%
February 202115%20%61%
April 202131%22%43%
June 202134%19%43%
August 202130%19%47%
October 202125%18%55%
February 202224%19%53%
April 202221%15%63%

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categoryTotal
Extremely well4%
Very well9%
Somewhat well23%
Somewhat poorly26%
Very poorly14%
Extremely poorly15%
Don't know/No opinion8%

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categoryTotal
Approve strongly4%
Approve somewhat17%
Neither approve nor disapprove18%
Disapprove somewhat21%
Disapprove strongly37%
Don't know4%

Overall, Biden enters his State of the Union address with 52% of Texas voters disapproving of his job performance and only 36% approving, according to the February 2022 University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll. The president’s honeymoon period (such as it was) was brief in Texas, lasting from the time he assumed office in early 2021 until late spring. In February and March 2021 polling, roughly equal shares of Texas voters said they approved or disapproved of Biden’s job performance. By April, a crack emerged that has slowly expanded to something of chasm.

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categoryApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 202145%44%11%
March 202144%43%12%
April 202144%46%11%
June 202143%47%10%
August 202140%51%9%
October 202135%55%11%
February 202236%52%11%
April 202237%54%9%

Texas Democrats have remained behind the president, though not as firmly as at the beginning of his term. In four surveys conducted between February 2021 and June 2021, at least 87% of Democrats said they approved of Biden’s job performance. But in three surveys since August, no more than 76% approved. More troubling for the president, the intensity of that approval has waned significantly, with 64% of Democrats “approving strongly” upon Biden’s assumption of office in February 2021 polling, and at least 50% approving strongly through June. In February 2022, only 33% of Democrats said that they approve strongly of the job Joe Biden is doing as president.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Approve strongly33%6%2%
Approve somewhat43%11%4%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%15%3%
Disapprove somewhat5%17%9%
Disapprove strongly4%46%82%
Don't know1%5%0%

As the graphic above illustrates, views among Republicans are overwhelmingly negative (though not significantly different from Democratic views of Donald Trump at the same point in his presidency). Since the beginning of his presidency, no fewer than 80% of Republican voters disapproved of Biden’s job performance, including 91% of Republicans in the last three surveys conducted by the Texas Politics Project in August 2021, October 2021, and February 2022.

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categoryApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 202112%80%9%
March 20217%82%11%
April 20217%86%7%
June 20219%84%7%
August 20216%91%2%
October 20215%91%4%
February 20226%91%3%
April 20226%87%6%

More troubling for Biden and Democrats than the usual cross-partisan vitriol is his increasingly poor standing among non-partisans. Among true independents (those voters who neither identify with neither the Democratic or Republican parties nor lean toward either one), 63% disapproved of Biden’s job performance in February, part of a consistent trend of increasingly negative evaluations among a voting group whose views only grow in importance as the state becomes more competitive.

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categoryApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 202128%49%24%
March 202132%40%27%
April 202130%43%26%
June 202127%52%21%
August 202129%52%20%
October 202120%57%23%
February 202217%63%20%
April 202218%61%21%

To the extent that Biden entered office in a better position than he currently finds himself, it’s reasonable to assume that at least some of this goodwill was attached to views of Biden’s likely response to the coronavirus pandemic – a subject he’s sure to touch on in the State of the Union address. From February 2021 through June 2021, between 48% and 49% of Texans said they approved of Joe Biden’s handling of the response to the coronavirus, with 35% to 36% saying that they disapproved. Since June, Biden has seen a significant drop in assessments of his handling of the pandemic, with between 47% and 51% now disapproving (48% in February 2022), and no more than 44% approving (and only 40% in the most recent survey).

Unsurprisingly, Republican negativity to the Biden response has increased over this period, from 66% disapproving in February of last year to 80% in February of this year. Independent disapproval has grown from 32% in February 2021 to 56% in February 2022. And while Democrats remain behind the president on COVID, the distribution and intensity of that opinion is waning, with 91% approving of Biden’s handling of COVID in February 2021 (and 70% approving strongly) to 75% approving in February 2022 (and only 39% approving strongly).

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categoryTotal
Approve strongly34%
Approve somewhat15%
Neither approve nor disapprove14%
Disapprove somewhat7%
Disapprove strongly29%
Don't know2%

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categoryTotal
Approve strongly20%
Approve somewhat20%
Neither approve nor disapprove10%
Disapprove somewhat10%
Disapprove strongly38%
Don't know3%

As the conversations around COVID continue to shift and attention continues to recede (should we be so lucky), economic issues are moving to center stage. In the February UT/TXP survey, 88% of Texas voters said that they had noticed price increases based on recent purchases of goods and services. Among those who noticed price increases, 92% indicated a negative impact on their current financial situation (51% a major impact, 41% a minor impact). When asked to evaluate the job Joe Biden is doing on the economy, only 30% said they approved, with 54% disapproving (43% strongly).

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categoryTotal
Approve strongly14%
Approve somewhat16%
Neither approve nor disapprove13%
Disapprove somewhat11%
Disapprove strongly43%
Don't know3%

The pandemic and its ongoing economic consequences would be enough to occupy the agenda of most administrations, but the issue landscape is much larger than this, and doesn’t bode well for Biden so far.

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categoryTotal
The coronavirus40%
Transportation & infrastructure35%
Voting & elections31%
The economy30%
Foreign policy30%
Climate change29%
Crime & public safety26%
Immigration & border security25%

Overall, Biden finds himself underwater on all eight of the issue areas where we estimated Texans’ opinions about the president’s job performance, with a greater share of voters disapproving than approving. While a majority of Democrats were willing to endorse Biden’s work on every issue, the share expressing disapproval across a number of key policy areas poses a challenge for the party heading into the midterms. In particular, one in five Democrats disapprove of the job Biden is doing on an issues that can’t be ignored, either nationally or in Texas: the economy, and immigration and border security.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
The coronavirus75%29%10%
Transportation & infrastructure67%21%8%
Voting & elections62%18%7%
The economy59%22%5%
Foreign policy58%19%7%
Climate change59%17%7%
Crime & public safety54%15%5%
Immigration & border security51%13%5%

Republicans are overwhelmingly negative in their evaluations of Biden across each issue area, with at least 70% disapproving on each, and 88% disapproving of Biden’s handling of the border. Biden doesn’t fare much better among independents either, with more of those voters disapproving than approving on each of the 8 issues tested. Biden fares worst on two issues long expected to be centerpieces of Republican campaigns — immigration and border security, and crime and public safety — and in an area front and center in recent days — foreign policy. We’ll see if attitudes shift in that area as the unpredictable events continue to unfold.

Looming over matters of policy and the usual assessments likely to affect the reception of Biden’s address, a sizable share of Texans don’t think Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. If you don’t think Biden was legitimately elected (36% of Texans, according to the most recent UT/TxPP poll), it seems unlikely anything the man says is likely to move you in a positive direction.

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categoryTotal
Yes53%
No36%
Not sure11%

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