Americans expressed scant confidence in President Joe Biden and his party heading into the 2023 State of the Union address. Yet wide majorities also lack faith in their Republican counterparts, and a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds the GOP at risk on two fronts, the debt ceiling debate and its inquiry into alleged federal bias against conservatives.
Biden faces deep challenges of his own, including record economic discontent and weak job approval. Few give him credit for a range of accomplishments he may try to claim in tomorrow's address, from infrastructure to prescription drug prices.
The public takes Biden's side in the debt ceiling debate, with broad support for handling debt payments and federal spending as separate issues, along with extensive worry about the impacts of a default. The GOP leadership also faces skepticism about its probe of anti-conservative bias in federal agencies; most see this as an attempt to score political points, not a legitimate inquiry.
Among other issues, while Biden is calling on Congress to renew the long-expired ban on assault weapons, the public now is divided on the question: Forty-seven percent support such a ban, 51% oppose it. That reflects a 9-point drop in support since 2019, surprising given recent gun violence but confirming other data.
Internationally, the survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds a substantial rise in the sense that the United States is doing "too much" to assist Ukraine in its war with Russia – 33% say so, up from 14% last spring. Still, that leaves about six in 10 saying the United States is doing the right amount (40%) or too little (19%, down from 37% as weapons shipments have soared).
The shift toward saying the U.S. is doing too much peaks among Republicans and conservatives, up 32 and 30 percentage points, respectively. Those compare with non-significant changes of +5 points among Democrats and +6 points among liberals.
There's also the issue of confidence in the country's leadership. As detailed below, it's sorely lacking, with 68 to 72% of Americans expressing little or no confidence in Biden, newly elected Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and both their parties in Congress.
Biden has a wide advantage on one urgent and contentious issue, the debt ceiling. Just 26% of Americans adopt McCarthy's position that Congress should allow the government to pay its debts only if the administration agrees to cut federal spending. A broad 65% instead align with Biden's view that the issues of debt payment and federal spending should be handled separately.
Even among Republicans, fewer than half – 48% – support coupling debt payment with cuts in federal spending. That drops to 22% among independents and 10% of Democrats.
Underlying these results is broad worry about the consequences of default: A vast 82% are very or somewhat worried that a government default would damage the economy. That includes a majority, 53%, at the top end of the scale, "very" concerned.
Notably, this concern is bipartisan – about eight in 10 adults across the political spectrum are concerned about the economic impacts of a default, and being very concerned peaks among Republicans, at 59%.
That said, about two-thirds of Americans favor separate discussion of the debt limit and federal spending regardless of whether they're more or less worried about the impacts of nonpayment.
Most broadly, the survey shows a now-common result: A public with deep economic dissatisfaction, sharp polarization and little faith in leaders on either side of the aisle. These attitudes are informed by the fact that, as reported Sunday, 41% say they've gotten worse off since the president took office, a high in polling back 37 years.
The public by an extensive 68-31% expresses just some or no confidence in Biden to make the right decisions for the country's future. It's a similar 70-28% for the Democrats in Congress. But it's even worse for McCarthy – a vast 71-19% lack confidence in his leadership. And it's 72-25% for his party.
In addition to the debt ceiling debate, the GOP faces headwinds in its inquiry into alleged anti-conservative bias in federal agencies by the newly created House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. Americans by a 20-point margin, 56-36%, see the probe as "an attempt to score political points" rather than a legitimate investigation.
Indeed, while views are highly partisan, even among Republicans, 34% see the weaponization inquiry as an attempt to score political points, and a tepid 57% think it's a legitimate investigation. Results among conservatives are almost identical.
Part of the GOP's problem is widespread doubt about its premise. Relatively few Americans, 28%, think federal agencies in fact are biased against conservatives. Eleven percent think they're biased against liberals; an additional 11% volunteer that they're biased against both. A plurality, 42%, think federal agencies are not biased against either group.
Among conservatives themselves, 55% think federal agencies are biased against them. That's 47% among people who define themselves as somewhat conservative, rising to 66% of those who say they're very conservative (15% of all adults).
While Biden has undertaken a new push to ban assault weapons, public views on the issue are now closely divided: Forty-seven percent support a ban, 51% oppose it. That reflects a 9-point drop in support for an assault weapons ban, and a 10-point rise in opposition, since last measured in an ABC/Post poll in September 2019. (Results were roughly similar, 49-45%, in a Quinnipiac University poll last July.)
Support for an assault weapons ban was this low just once before, a 45-53% result in December 2015; that poll, and this one, are the only two in which more than 50% have opposed a ban. In most other polls since 1995, majorities have supported an assault weapons ban, peaking at 79% in May 1999. It was 62% as recently as April 2018.
The decline in support for an assault weapons ban since 2019 is broadly based across groups. It would take a study focused in more detail on the issue to assess its reasons, but other studies provide clues. In a Pew Research Center poll last year, the public divided on whether or not making it harder to get guns would reduce mass shootings. And in a Pew study only among parents of children under 18, fewer than half, 45%, thought an assault weapons ban would be extremely or very effective at preventing shootings in schools specifically.
Presidents typically tout their accomplishments in a State of the Union address. It can be a tough sell: Just 36% of Americans think Biden has accomplished a great deal or good amount as president; 62% say he's accomplished not very much or nothing. In an ABC/Post poll in January 2018, Trump was in a similar boat.
Nor does Biden get much credit for a disparate list of items he might raise in tomorrow's address. Unemployment has dropped from 6.3% when Biden took office to 3.4% now (a low since 1969) and the economy added a robust 517,000 jobs last month – yet the public by 60-34% says he has not made progress "creating more good jobs in your community."
Other efforts largely have yet to hit the ground, making it difficult for Biden to claim credit. Despite the huge infrastructure bill he signed into law in November 2021, the public by 60-32% says Biden has not made progress "improving roads and bridges in your community" – perhaps because much of the actual work is yet to be done.
Similarly, legislation Biden signed in August includes a tax credit up to $7,500 for buying an electric vehicle. But it took effect just this year; so far, the public by 56-26% says Biden has not made progress "making electric vehicles more affordable." (A substantial 18% are undecided.)
Lastly, despite measures to lower prescription drug prices for people on Medicare, the public by a closer 47-30% says Biden has not made progress "lowering prescription drug costs," with 23% unsure. Again, some of the bill's provisions take effect this year; others are years off.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 27-Feb. 1, 2023, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 26-25-40%, Democrats-Republicans-independents. See the PDF for full results, charts and tables.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Maryland. See details on the survey's methodology here.