AP-NORC Poll: Many say Biden and Trump did more harm than good, but for different reasons

Published 5:04 pm Friday, April 12, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

WASHINGTON — There’s a reason why President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are spending so much time attacking each other — people don’t think either man has much to brag about when it comes to his own record. Americans generally think that while they were in the White House, both did more harm than good on key issues.

But the two candidates have different weak spots. For Biden, it’s widespread unhappiness on two issues: the economy and immigration. Trump, meanwhile, faces an electorate where substantial shares think he harmed the country on a range of issues.

A new poll from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that more than half of U.S. adults think Biden’s presidency has hurt the country on cost of living and immigration, while nearly half think Trump’s presidency hurt the country on voting rights and election security, relations with foreign countries, abortion laws and climate change.

Email newsletter signup

“Considering the price of gas, the price of groceries, the economy — I did very well during those four years,” Christina Elliott, 60, a Republican from Texas, said of the Trump presidency. “I didn’t have to worry about filling up my tank or losing half of my paycheck to the grocery store.”

Elliott wasn’t too keen on Trump’s handling of abortion and said that when it comes to the former president’s rhetoric, “He just needs to learn how to be tactful and shut his mouth.”

“But other than that, like I said, I did very well during the Trump years,” she added.

The polling underscores why certain issues — such as abortion for Biden and immigration for Trump — have been persistent focal points for each of the campaigns. The former president regularly decries the number of asylum-seekers who have arrived in the U.S. under Biden, describing the situation in apocalyptic and dark terms. And Biden has gone on the offensive against Trump on abortion, especially after this week’s ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court that essentially criminalized the procedure in the state.

When asked which president did more to help people like them, roughly one-third say Donald Trump and about one-quarter say Joe Biden. Yet 30% of adults said neither Biden nor Trump benefitted them. It’s another data point reflecting an electorate that has been largely disappointed with this year’s general election choices, generating little enthusiasm among key parts of the Biden and Trump political coalitions.

Americans rate Biden particularly negatively on a few specific issues. Only about 2 in 10 Americans think Biden’s presidency helped “a lot” or “a little” on cost of living, and 16% say that about immigration and border security. Nearly 6 in 10 say his presidency hurt a lot or a little on these issues. Nearly half, 46%, of Americans, by contrast, say that Trump’s presidency helped a lot or a little on immigration or border security. Four in 10 say it helped on cost of living.

Texas resident Trelicia Mornes, 36, said she feels the Biden presidency has hurt a lot when it comes to everyday expenses.

“Now that he’s in the office, the cost of living has spiked out of control, and there’s nothing being done about it,” Mornes, a Democrat, said, pointing to rising costs of rent and food. She said she believes Biden can do more, “He just chooses to do other things.”

The pandemic hurt Trump in terms of employment as the economy lost 2.7 million jobs under his watch. But the pandemic lockdowns also dramatically curbed inflation as the consumer price index dipped from an annual rate of 2.3% to as low as 0.1%. At the same time, low interest rates and historic levels of deficit-funded government stimulus left many households feeling better off under Trump.

Coming out of the pandemic, Biden gave the economy a boost with additional aid that helped spur job gains of 15.2 million under his watch. But supply chain issues, Russia’s war in Ukraine and Biden’s aid package are judged by many economists as having contributed to rising inflation, hurting the Democrat’s approval ratings.

Trump’s advantage on the cost of living and immigration is driven partially by Democrats’ lack of enthusiasm about Biden’s performance. About one-third of Democrats, for example, think Biden’s presidency hurt on cost of living, and another third think Biden neither helped nor hurt. Just one-third of Democrats think Biden’s presidency helped on cost of living. About 3 in 10 Democrats think Biden’s presidency helped on immigration and border security, a similar share think his presidency hurt, and about 4 in 10 think it made no difference.

Nadia Stepicheva, 38, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, is unhappy with how Biden has handled immigration.

“The problem is, I really don’t like illegal type of immigration,” Stepicheva said. She thinks that people who enter the U.S., even if they come in illegally, should be allowed to work so that taxpayer dollars aren’t used to care for them and house them.

Stepicheva said she has always leaned in favor of Democrats and the party’s policies, “But the last four years, I feel like it’s getting too much in terms of money spent for immigration, forgiving all these student loans.” She said she’s torn in terms of who she will vote for this November.

But independents also rate Biden low on these issues: Nearly 6 in 10 independents say Biden’s presidency has hurt the country on cost of living. About 4 in 10 independents say Biden’s presidency has hurt the country when it comes to the cost of health care and relations with other countries.

Trump has a different problem.

The former president doesn’t have any asked-about issues where more than half of Americans think he did more to hurt things than to help, but the overall sense of harm is somewhat broader. Nearly half of Americans think his presidency did more to hurt than help on climate change, voting rights and election security, abortion laws and relations with foreign countries.

Catherine Scott, a Republican who recently moved to New York from Florida, said she found Trump’s approach to foreign policy particularly concerning.

“I understand that some people really admire Trump’s ability to be a spitfire and just say whatever is at the top of his mind,” said Scott, 30. But, pointing to Trump’s complimentary comments toward autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Scott said, “I don’t think he has all the foresight to understand that might not always be the thing to do.”

The best issue for both Biden and Trump overall is job creation. Trump has a small edge here: Nearly half say his presidency helped, while 36% say Biden’s presidency helped. About half of Americans also think Trump’s presidency helped on immigration and 4 in 10 think his presidency helped on cost of living.

On every other issue, the share of Americans who say that Biden or Trump helped the country a lot or a little is around 3 in 10 or less. But Republicans, overall, tend to see more of a benefit from Trump’s presidency than Democrats do from Biden’s — even on issues where Biden has worked to highlight his victories.

For example, only about half of Democrats say that Biden’s presidency has helped on climate change or the cost of health care. On abortion laws, 77% of Democrats think that Trump’s presidency was at least a little harmful, but only about 4 in 10 say that Biden’s presidency helped a lot or a little, and a similar share think Biden’s presidency hasn’t made a difference.

Meanwhile, around 8 in 10 Republicans say that Trump’s presidency helped on immigration and border security, creating jobs and cost of living.