Ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration as the nation’s 46th president, 58% of U.S. adults say they approve of the job he has done so far in explaining his policies and plans for the future to the American people. About four-in-ten (39%) say they disapprove of the job he has done.
The public has, on balance, approved of the job incoming presidents were doing explaining their plans and policies for the future in previous Pew Research Center surveys (past surveys were conducted by phone). In January 2009, 70% of the public said they approved of the job Barack Obama was doing, while 64% approved of Bill Clinton in 1993 and a similar share (65%) said this a few months into George H.W. Bush’s administration. Shortly before George W. Bush took office in 2001, half of Americans evaluated him positively.
An exception was Donald Trump in 2017, when 39% of Americans approved of how he was explaining his plans ahead of his inauguration and 55% disapproved.
There are wide divisions across race, ethnicity and educational background in approval of the job Biden has done explaining his policies and plans for the future.
While majorities of Black (86%) and Hispanic (72%) adults approve of the job Biden has done explaining his plans, White adults are about equally divided (49% approve and 48% disapprove).
Americans with college degrees are more likely than those without to approve of the way Biden has explained his policies to the public. Majorities of those with a postgraduate (75%) or college degree (64%) say they approve of Biden’s job so far, but about half of those with a high school diploma or less education (54%) say the same.
There is a large partisan division in approval of how Biden has explained his policies and plans for the future. Roughly nine-in-ten Democrats (88%) say they approve, compared with a quarter of Republicans (25%). Most Republicans (72%) express disapproval.
Though there are generally partisan divisions in approval of the incoming president’s performance during the transition, the current partisan gap is among the widest in surveys dating back to 1989. The current 63 percentage point gap in approval of Biden’s performance is similar to the 59-point gap before Trump took office. But in 2009, before Obama’s swearing-in, there was a 45-point gap between Democrats and Republicans, similar to the 48-point gap for George W. Bush. The gap was even narrower when Bill Clinton (35 points) was days away from taking office.
Will Biden be a successful or unsuccessful president?
As Biden prepares to take the oath of office next week, 44% of Americans say it is too early to tell whether he will be successful or unsuccessful as president; 29% believe that Biden will have a successful presidency, while a slightly smaller share (26%) say that he will be unsuccessful.
As has been the case with past presidents, expectations for Biden’s presidency are divided by partisan affiliation. About half of Democrats (51%) say Biden will be successful, while just 4% say he will be unsuccessful. Republicans are more pessimistic: 53% say Biden will be unsuccessful, and only 6% say he will be successful. Similar shares of both Democrats (45%) and Republicans (40%) say it is too early to tell whether Biden will be a successful president.
About half say Biden will improve how the federal government works
All in all, about half of the public (46%) says Biden will make the way the federal government works better. Smaller shares say he will make things worse (28%) or not have much of an effect (24%).
Similar to most attitudes about the presidential transition, Democrats and Republicans express divergent views about how Biden will impact the federal government.
Democrats and Democratic leaners are overwhelmingly positive about the effect Biden will have in Washington. About eight-in-ten (78%) say he will make things better, 4% say he will make things worse and 17% say that he will not have much of an effect on the way the federal government works.
By contrast, Republicans’ views are more negative. About six-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (58%) say Biden will make things worse in the federal government. Three-in-ten Republicans (30%) say Biden will not have much effect, and 12% say he will make things better.
How Americans place Biden’s ideological positions
The public has mixed views about Biden’s ideology. About half of Americans says Biden is liberal on almost all (23%) or most (25%) issues. Another 39% say Biden has a mix of liberal and conservative views, while about one-in-ten Americans (9%) say Biden is conservative on most or all issues.
Republicans (73%) are more than twice as likely as Democrats (31%) to view Biden as liberal on all or most issues. Democrats, by contrast, are about three times as likely as Republicans to say Biden holds a mix of conservative and liberal views (56% to 19%).
A majority of conservative Republicans (56%) say Biden has liberal views on almost all issues; by comparison, among moderate and liberal Republicans 25% say this.
Most Democrats say Biden will listen about equally to moderates and liberals in the party
Looking ahead to Biden’s presidency, most Democrats (62%) think Biden will listen about equally to moderates and liberals within the party. About three-in-ten Democrats (28%) say Biden will listen more to moderates, while just 9% say he will listen more to liberal Democrats during his presidency.
Overall, there are some modest ideological differences among Democrats about who will get more attention from the president-elect. Liberal Democrats (35%) are more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats (22%) to think Biden will listen more to moderates in the party.
Eight-in-ten Democrats say they’ll watch Biden’s inauguration, a quarter of Republicans will
About half of Americans (53%) say they plan to watch Joe Biden be sworn into office on Jan. 20, while 46% say they do not plan to watch the inauguration.
Americans’ interest in watching the inauguration is divided along party lines: Eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners say they plan to watch the inauguration, while a quarter of Republicans and Republican leaners say they plan to watch.
While those who identify as or lean toward the of the president-elect’s party have long been more likely than those who support the opposing party to say they plan to watch the inauguration, the partisan gap in plans this year is considerably wider than in past years (when this question was asked on Pew Research Center telephone surveys).
Views of Kamala Harris
On the cusp of Kamala Harris’ historic swearing-in, which will make her the first woman, first Black American and first Asian American vice president, just over half of Americans (55%) expect her to have “about the right amount” of influence within the Biden administration. And Americans are divided over whether they think Harris, who will be first in the line of succession, is qualified for the presidency (50% say she is qualified, 47% say she is not).
About eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (82%) say Harris is qualified for the presidency. By contrast, just 15% of Republicans and Republican leaners say Harris is qualified; 83% say she is not qualified.
Slightly more than half of Americans (55%) say that Harris will have about the right amount of influence within the upcoming Biden administration, while 36% say she will have too much influence. Just 7% of Americans say she will have too little influence.
Most Democrats (83%) say Harris will have about the right amount of influence, but only about two-in-ten Republicans (22%) say the same. About seven-in-ten Republicans (69%) say she will have too much influence.
Majority approves of Biden’s cabinet choices
Nearly six-in-ten Americans (57%) approve of President-elect Joe Biden’s choices for his Cabinet and other high-level appointments, while 37% disapprove of these choices.
Democrats overwhelmingly approve of Biden’s staffing choices: About nine-in-ten approve (89%), while just 8% disapprove.
About seven-in-ten Republicans (72%) disapprove of Biden’s Cabinet choices and other high-level appointments. However, there is a substantial gap between the share of conservative Republicans (83%) and the share of moderate and liberal Republicans (55%) who disapprove.
Views about the presence of many Obama administration veterans among Biden’s top advisers follow a similar pattern. A majority of Americans (58%) say it is a good thing many Biden advisers worked in the Obama administration; 39% say this is a bad thing.
Nearly all Democrats say that many of Biden’s advisers having experience in the Obama administration is a good thing (92%), yet fewer than a quarter of Republicans say this (21%). Conservative Republicans, in particular, see this is as a bad thing (86% say this). A smaller majority of moderate and liberal Republicans also say that this is a bad thing (63%).
More Americans expect ethics and honesty in the federal government will rise, rather than fall, with Biden as president
More Americans expect the overall level of ethics and honesty in the federal government to rise with Biden as president (46%) than expect it to fall (30%). About a quarter (24%) expect little change.
About three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic leaners (76%) say that the level of ethics and honesty will rise, while 19% say it will stay the same and 5% say it will fall.
In contrast, six-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners say they expect the level of ethics and honesty to fall after Biden takes office. About a quarter of Republicans (27%) say it will remain the same as under the Trump administration, while 13% say it will rise.