In March 2020, President Biden swept through Massachusetts’ Democratic primary with a come-from-behind Super Tuesday victory. He later topped Donald Trump by 33 ½ percentage points here, his second-largest margin of victory in November. Few places lean more Democratic than Massachusetts, according to political forecasters.
But even in this deep blue stronghold, Biden has fallen hard.
Just 46 percent of registered Massachusetts voters say they approve of the job Biden is doing as president, with about the same proportion giving him a thumbs down, according to a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll. Of the 765 registered voters surveyed, just two more — 354 to 352 — said they disapproved.
Biden’s troubles run across several demographics. He struggled the most with voters 35 or younger, with just 37 percent of them approving of him. And while nearly all Republicans, unsurprisingly, say they disapprove of his job performance, more than half of unenrolled voters — Massachusetts’ largest voting bloc — said they also hold a dim view: Just 39 percent say they approve, compared to 52 percent who don’t.
The findings, particularly in a reliably Democratic state, show a worrisome lack of support for the president and one that reflects the depth of his political troubles with mid-term elections approaching this fall. Massachusetts voters in particular appear to be souring on the country’s economic outlook, with more than half — 51 percent — saying they believe the economy is in a recession or depression, according to the poll.
“If you’re technically underwater in Massachusetts, that sends a powerful message to the country,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. Massachusetts Democrats, he noted, are still reliably behind Biden, with 75 percent approving of his work, but the lopsided margins among unenrolled voters may speak louder.
“When independents in Massachusetts are that negative on an incumbent Democratic president who won this state going away, one wonders what an independent swing-state voter in Ohio, Nevada, or New Hampshire is thinking,” Paleologos said. “It poses a real challenge for the midterm elections for Democrats.”
The poll had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points.
With his legislative agenda largely stalled and inflation rising quickly, Biden’s approval rating with voters nationwide is hovering around 41.5 percent in a Real Clear Politics average of polls. According to Gallup polling that dates back to President Eisenhower, only President Trump had a lower approval rating at this point in his tenure.
A top adviser for Biden downplayed the importance of the polls in a recent tweet, referencing the fact that France’s president won reelection despite being widely disliked.
“President Macron appears to have secured a double-digit victory over LePen, at a time when his approval rating is 36%,” White House chief of staff Ronald Klain wrote on April 24. “Hmmm....”
But many congressional Democrats are not so sanguine. Democrats facing tough races in New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia, and other swing states have distanced themselves from Biden in recent weeks on the issue of immigration in particular, criticizing the administration for its handling of border policy.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren has also been obliquely critical of Biden, warning in a recent op-ed that Democrats’ “failure to get big things done” could lead to electoral doom.
“Democrats cannot bow to the wisdom of out-of-touch consultants who recommend we simply tout our accomplishments,” she wrote in The New York Times. “Instead, Democrats need to deliver more of the president’s agenda — or else we will not be in the majority much longer.”
The drop in support among young people in Massachusetts mirrors a larger national trend that is dragging the president’s support down. Biden’s approval rating among voters under 30 nationwide dropped to just 41 percent, 18 points lower than it was last year, according to the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics’ youth poll released last week.
Biden showed some urgency in recent days around appealing to younger voters, sounding closer to delivering on a campaign promise to relieve student loans than he has in recent months. The president said last week he is “taking a hard look” at forgiving student loan debt, with Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer telling reporters he believes Biden is close to making such a move.
Congress, which is under very narrow Democratic control, passed a sweeping COVID relief bill and a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill since Biden took office. But objections from some within his own party, namely Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have stalled progress on ambitious promises on child care and climate change.
Massachusetts voters interviewed by the Globe expressed different grievances with Biden. Patrick Carroll, a 45-year-old Spencer resident and unenrolled voter, said while he believes Biden has handled the Ukrainian crisis well, the country has needed a stronger, more public-facing leader.
”I feel like our previous president was so in front of us all the time, whether good or bad. And up until the Ukrainian crisis, Biden was almost non-present,” Carroll said. “I felt it was a time that our country needed a greater presence and strength than what he was offering.”
Gregg Housh, 45, of Malden is an unenrolled voter who said he backed Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic primary and voted for Biden in the general election — but as a “vote against Trump, not a vote for him.”
“He’s just not progressive,” Housh said of Biden. “He’s not moving us forward. We should have way more green initiatives. Student debt should just go away.”
Others, however, disagree. Stephen Goff, a 68-year-old retired Chelmsford Democrat, said he believes Biden has been faced with “challenges that most people could never deal with.”
“If we had the previous guy in office now, I can’t imagine what a mess things would be,” Goff said. “I realize that Joe Biden is at a very weak point right now. I don’t think that’s going to last.”