As President Joe Biden prepares for his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, he’ll have a dwindling fan base in Utah.
Biden’s approval rating in the decidedly red state took a nosedive in the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, dipping to below 30% for the first time. Even Barack Obama didn’t sink that far among Utah voters. Biden has hit a new low in the Beehive State.
Only 11% of Utahns “strongly” approve and 18% “somewhat” approve of the president’s job performance, according to the poll. It shows 61% of residents disapprove of the job Biden is doing, including 44% who strongly disapprove. Another 9% don’t know.
“These approval ratings represent an exceptionally tough month for Biden after a very difficult first year in office,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.
“When people see the current state of affairs every time they go to the grocery store, fill up their cars, or watch the news, it is clear they are frustrated and are blaming President Biden.”
Scott Howell, a former Democratic Utah Senate leader and surrogate for Biden, said the poll results didn’t surprise him given that people are “disgruntled” over the economy. He also said progressives got in the president’s ear and he has some “wokiness” around him.
“My Republican friends who voted for him didn’t vote for that. They voted for a centrist that would respect their beliefs and fundamental beliefs of capitalism, of faith and respect for the individual,” he said.
Howell predicted Biden’s approval rating in Utah will be “much, much higher” as people come to realize he is a centrist and a caring and strong leader.
“If he were sitting with us, he’d probably say, ‘You know what? I made some mistakes and I’m learning from this,’” Howell said.
Just last month, the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll found 37% of Utahns gave Biden a thumb’s up, which was five points higher than last November. Shortly after he took office in 2021, his approval rating in Utah reached as high as 45%.
The new poll was conducted before Biden responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and before he nominated the first Black woman, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, to fill an upcoming vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Biden’s 2022 State of the Union address Tuesday might be coming at an opportune time.
The president will speak to a still sharply divided nation facing rising inflation but one that appears to be through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and has rallied around Ukrainians fighting for their freedom.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s speech would take on a different tone because of the war in Ukraine.
“There’s no question that in the State of the Union, the American people and anybody watching around the world will hear the president talk about the efforts he has led over the past several months to build a global coalition to fight against the autocracy and the efforts of President Putin to invade a foreign country,” she said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
The president, she said, would also focus on matters closer to home.
“What people will also hear from President Biden is his optimism and his belief in the resilience of the American people and the strength of the American people,” Psaki said.
Biden’s speech might give his approval rating a small bounce, but one that would probably be short-lived. Long term, it will have far more to do with the state of the economy, especially inflationary pressures, and highly salient events, such as the war in Ukraine, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
“That said, I expect him to say more about how the war in Ukraine represents a key moment for Europe, the West, and liberal democracy,” he said. “Given the overwhelming support of both Democrats and Republicans for Ukraine, this is a rare moment of unity across the political spectrum, with the noted exception of Donald Trump’s praise for Vladimir Putin.”
Karpowitz said the State of the Union represents an “extraordinary” opportunity for Biden to emphasize his differences from Trump’s approach to world affairs and to make the case for the centrality of the United States to the success of liberal democracy in Europe and across the globe.
Howell wants the president to call out Putin on his nuclear threat.
“I think we need to see a president stand up tomorrow who’s full of energy and determination and strong, strong leadership. ... Someone who says something that would make Putin begin to think, ‘Maybe I did this wrong,’” he said.
On the domestic front, Karpowitz said he anticipates the president would emphasize the historic nature of Jackson’s nomination to the high court and his plans for how the nation will transition from the crisis footing of the pandemic to a world in which COVID-19 is endemic.
Howell said he hopes the president will talk about his infrastructure plans, clean energy accomplishments and the economy, particularly how to get the supply chain moving again.
Biden’s approval ratings have sagged in Utah and nationally over the past 13 months.
Since taking office, his support among Democrats nationwide has fallen from 90% to 78%, while his backing among independents has tumbled from 51% to 34%. These core constituencies were crucial to Biden’s 2020 victory, and any improvement will be a balm to this beleaguered president, according to The Hill.
In Utah, the new poll shows 74% of Democrats approve of the job Biden is doing as president, which hasn’t changed much since he took office, give or take a couple of percentage points, according to past Deseret News/Hinckley Institute surveys.
Biden’s support among unaffiliated or independent Utah voters is 34%, the new poll found.
Only 16% of Republicans in the state approve of his job performance.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, director of the Georgetown University Center on Faith and Justice, said it is imperative that Biden offer more than policy prescriptions in his speech.
“He must seek to unite us as fellow citizens and persuade us to put aside our personal and ideological interests,” Wallis wrote in an op-ed for USA Today. “Our fractured union can be healed only by inspiring our ‘better angels,’ as President Abraham Lincoln once said during another time of deep civil strife.”
The survey found Biden does a little better with Utahns ages 25-56, women and college graduates than he does with older and younger voters, men and those with some college or a high school diploma. But even among those groups, his approval rating hovers around 30%.
Of those in the poll who identified themselves as “very active” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the predominant religion in Utah — only 21% approve of the job Biden is doing. The president’s approval rating among “somewhat or not active” Latter-day Saints is 24%.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll of 808 registered Utah voters Feb. 7-17. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.
While Utahns don’t give Biden high marks for his presidency in general, he does better when it comes to his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third year.
The poll shows 41% of people approve of his handling of the pandemic, while 54% disapprove.
The survey found a huge disparity between political parties on that question, with 86% of Democrats approving compared to only 26% of Republicans. Thirty-four percent of independents approve of his COVID-19 response.
Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandates didn’t play well in Utah, which was among the states that successfully challenged his directives in court.
Karpowitz said the president could do a great deal in his Tuesday speech to help Americans understand what to expect with COVID-19 in the coming months and what preparations the country is making for additional outbreaks or to contain future threats.