By Megan Brenan of Gallup
President Joe Biden is viewed as likable and intelligent by three in five Americans.
However, at the end of a challenging first year in office, with his approval rating at a personal low of 40%, less than half of U.S. adults think he possesses five other positive character qualities, least of all being a strong and decisive leader (37%) and able to manage the government effectively (38%). Slightly more think he displays good judgment in a crisis (43%), is honest and trustworthy (45%), and cares about the needs of people like themselves (48%).
These readings, from a Jan. 3-16 poll, are significantly lower than Gallup's previous readings for Biden from a poll taken during the 2020 general election campaign; the poll included six of these seven character dimensions. The biggest change between September 2020 and now is a 14-percentage-point decrease in Americans' belief that Biden can effectively manage the government. Excluding that shift from one of his stronger attributes to one of his weakest, the rank-order of items asked both times has stayed the same.
In the first year of his presidency, Biden has dealt with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy, immigration problems at the border, criticism over the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and opposition to his legislative agenda from Republicans and some in his own party.
Independents, Democrats Drive Drop in Biden's Positive Character Ratings
The declines in positive ratings of Biden's personal characteristics are driven primarily by independents and, to a lesser degree, Democrats, while Republicans' views have typically remained low.
- Independents' assessments of Biden's positive qualities ranged from 45% to 66% in 2020, and majorities thought Biden embodied four of the six characteristics measured. These ratings are now significantly lower -- between 30% and 59% -- with just likability and intelligence at the majority level.
- Between 74% and 91% of Democrats currently say Biden embodies each of the seven traits. From 2020 to 2022, Democrats' perceptions of three of Biden's traits fell significantly -- effective government management (-19 points), strong leadership (-12 points) and caring (-8 points). Views of the other three qualities from 2020 remain roughly the same, and 91% now say Biden is intelligent.
- In 2020, 40% of Republicans thought Biden was likable, but no more than 17% said he possessed any of the other five qualities. Now, 28% of Republicans say he is likable, 26% think he is intelligent, and there has essentially been no change in views of whether the other five characteristics apply to him.
Gallup has periodically measured Americans' views of a number of qualities for recent U.S. presidents, which allows for comparisons to Biden.
Strong and decisive leader -- Biden's 37% rating as a strong leader, a perceived weakness, is in sharp contrast to the three men who sat in the Oval Office before him. Donald Trump (54%), Barack Obama (56%) and George W. Bush (63%) averaged much higher readings over their presidencies. Leadership was consistently rated as Trump's strongest quality throughout his term.
Can manage the government effectively -- Views of Biden's ability to manage the government effectively (38%) are somewhat weaker than the term averages for Trump (42%) and Obama (49%). George W. Bush's 60% average on the measure reflects higher readings in his first term.
Likability -- Biden's relatively high score for likability (60%) falls short of Obama's average (79%) but is much higher than Trump's 37% term average.
Intelligence -- The only other recent president for whom Gallup measured perceptions of intelligence in this format is Trump, who, in June 2018 registered 58%, roughly the same reading as Biden's now.
Cares about the needs of people like you -- Biden's current 48% rating on empathy exceeds Trump's average 41% for the measure throughout his presidency, but George W. Bush (54%) and Bill Clinton (62%) averaged higher readings.
Honest and trustworthy -- Biden's current 45% reading for honesty is higher than the presidential averages for Trump (36%) and Clinton (40%) but lower than Obama's 56% and George W. Bush's 59%.
Displays good judgment in a crisis -- Biden (49%) was better reviewed than Trump (44%) during the 2020 campaign for displaying good judgment in a crisis -- Gallup's only measure of Trump on this dimension. Biden's 43% current rating is on par with Trump's and similar to George W. Bush's 47% in 2005, but lower than Obama's 57% average.
Gallup has historically found a reciprocal relationship between presidential job approval ratings and personal qualities. That is, elevated approval ratings have typically been accompanied by positive opinions of a president's personal characteristics. As Biden enters his second year in office with a relatively low approval rating, views of his personality traits are also mostly middling.
Effective management of government, in particular, is linked to job approval. This is a clear weakness for Biden right now, having fallen the most since 2020. Leaning into his perceived strengths of likability and intelligence could help him navigate the challenges he is facing.