New Yahoo News/YouGov poll: Stimulus checks and COVID optimism raise Biden's approval rating to highest level yet

Andrew Romano
·West Coast Correspondent
·7 min read

When Joe Biden took office, he bet voters would judge his presidency on one thing and one thing only: how well he handled the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.

Now, with vaccination accelerating, optimism rising and another round of relief checks arriving in the mail, a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that a clear and growing majority of Americans approve of Biden’s policies and leadership, providing the president with momentum that could bolster his next major legislative push, on infrastructure and climate change — if mounting challenges at the border with Mexico don’t get in his way.

The survey of 1,556 U.S. adults, which was conducted from March 23 to March 25, found that Biden’s approval rating on COVID-19 has climbed 5 percentage points (from 51 percent to 56 percent) over the past two weeks. A near-identical majority of Americans (55 percent) now say they support the administration’s recently passed COVID relief package — up from 52 percent in February — while just a quarter (25 percent) say they oppose it.

Biden's gains on COVID come largely from independents, 54 percent of whom now say they approve of the president's handling of the pandemic — up 11 points from earlier this month.

Likely as a result, Biden’s job approval rating has increased by 3 points (from 50 percent to 53 percent) since mid-February and by 8 points (from 45 percent) since his inauguration.

Despite opposition from Republicans in Congress — and warnings of sticker shock from pundits — the Yahoo News/YouGov results indicate that Biden, from a political standpoint, was right to go big on COVID relief. In fact, support for the legislation actually rises to 58 percent when its immense $1.9 trillion price tag is explicitly mentioned in the question, suggesting that more Americans see the implied scope and seriousness of the measure as a positive than see its cost as a negative.

Similarly, far more Americans say Congress was right to spend whatever it took to provide COVID relief (52 percent) than say Congress spent too much (30 percent).

The question now is whether Biden can translate his rising popularity into further legislative achievements.

While the poll suggests that will be challenging, it also hints at opportunities ahead. On Wednesday, Biden will travel to Pittsburgh to unveil his next priority: a sweeping $3 trillion infrastructure package designed to boost the economy, reduce carbon emissions and narrow economic inequality.

At the moment, Americans say they favor “another big legislative package to invest in America’s infrastructure and combat climate change” by a nearly 20-point margin (47 percent to 28 percent) — yet that support is several points lower than support for the COVID relief package. The proposal’s potential $3 trillion price tag could also cause problems: More Americans (40 percent total) prefer that Congress spend less (25 percent) or nothing (15 percent) on infrastructure than “as much as it takes” (35 percent).

Still, Americans overwhelmingly approve of the individual policies that will reportedly define Biden’s plan, with clear majorities in favor of “investing in the construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, ports and improvements to the electric grid and other parts of the power sector” (70 percent support, 10 percent oppose); “advanced training for manufacturing workers” (60 percent support, 15 percent oppose); “investing in clean energy to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change” (58 percent support, 25 percent oppose); and “increasing funding for rural broadband” (59 percent support, 17 percent oppose).

President Joe Biden smiles as he speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)
President Biden at a White House news conference on Thursday. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Other potential Biden proposals that garner majority backing include “providing universal pre-K for all American children” (55 percent support, 21 percent oppose); “creating subsidies that would reduce the cost of childcare for working parents” (57 percent support, 21 percent oppose); and “expanding subsidies for low- and middle-income Americans to buy health insurance” (56 percent support, 22 percent oppose).

When asked if they would favor Biden’s reported plan to “raise taxes on corporations and Americans making more than $400,000 to help pay for these proposals,” a similar majority — 55 percent to 26 percent — said they would.

Going forward, Biden will have to spend significant political capital to preserve these majorities in the face of what is certain to be staunch GOP opposition. Even then, getting additional measures through a narrowly divided Senate will be tough.

Despite increasing interest among Democrats in either reforming or abolishing the filibuster — along with the de facto 60-vote supermajority requirement it imposes on legislation — a full two-thirds of Americans say they’re either “unfamiliar” with the term (40 percent) or know nothing at all about it (26 percent). And while 45 percent of Americans say they support congressional Democrats’ decision to use the process known as budget reconciliation to pass the COVID relief bill with a simple majority vote (45 percent), fewer favor using the same process again for “other big relief bills” (39 percent) — and still fewer support ending the filibuster outright (36 percent).

At his press conference last week, Biden again floated a return to what’s known as a “talking filibuster,” which would require lawmakers to keep talking to block a bill rather than just filing a motion to do so. It’s possible that such a reform could prove to be popular; nearly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent), including more Republicans (65 percent) and independents (70 percent) than Democrats (46 percent), say they favor requiring senators “who want to block legislation to actually hold the floor of the Senate by speaking in person,” which suggests some public appetite, at least, for simplifying the process. Yet it’s unclear whether such a reform would actually work, with critics arguing that reinstating a talking filibuster could allow a handful of senators to delay nearly all Senate business.

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (Evan Vucci)/AP
Biden takes questions during his news conference on Thursday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Either way, Biden is probably wise to focus on infrastructure next. Even after two mass shootings in the course of a single week, views on gun control remain essentially unchanged — which means, in turn, that legislation on the issue is likely to continue to go nowhere. More Americans still say they want to make the laws covering the sale of handguns “more strict” (50 percent) rather than “less strict” (27 percent) or “no change” (27 percent), but these numbers simply match earlier results from YouGov polls conducted with the Economist in August 2020 and HuffPost in December 2018.

Overall, optimism is up: The perception that “the worst of the pandemic is already behind us” has climbed from 37 percent in late February to 41 percent two weeks ago to 43 percent today, while majorities now say they are ready to reopen indoor bars and restaurants at partial capacity (56 percent) and to reopen schools for in-person classes (51 percent). Half of Americans say they would “personally feel comfortable” gathering indoors with vaccinated people.

Yet risks remain for Biden. As thousands of unaccompanied minors head north, a wide majority of Americans (62 percent) also believe there is a “crisis” at the border with Mexico, and more think the situation has gotten worse (45 percent) than think it’s gotten better (19 percent) since Biden took office — even though more Americans (43 percent) also say the U.S. should not turn away children who arrive at the border without a parent or guardian than say the opposite (35 percent).

Still, Biden earns a net-negative approval rating on immigration: 37 percent approve to 44 percent disapprove. If the border issue spirals further out of control, it could very well come to cloud what has otherwise been a sunny first 100 days for the new president.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,556 U.S. adults interviewed online from March 23 to March 25. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7 percent.

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