The first year of his presidency was remembered by records for inflation, unemployment, COVID infections January 20 marks the year of Joe Biden's stay in the White House. What the 46th US President was able to achieve in the fight against the pandemic, in foreign and domestic policy – in the RBC review
Second from last in popularity
If a year ago Joe Biden won an almost record number of votes in the presidential election, now he is one of the most unpopular leaders in US history. His approval rating by January 2022 is 40%— below only his predecessor, Donald Trump, with 38% support by the end of his first year in office. The indicators of the leaders are many times higher— in first place is George W. Bush with 84% approval in January 2002. Barack Obama in January 2010 had 49%, Bill Clinton in January 1994— 55%.
According to Morning Consult/Politico, Biden's disapproval rating also hit an all-time high — 56% (4% of respondents were undecided). Among Democratic voters, the president is still popular: he is supported by 78%, but unconditionally— only 34%. In December alone, Biden lost 15%. Among Republican voters, 91% disapprove of the American leader's actions.
The president's low rating casts doubt on the position of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives. U.S. leaders who scored less than 50% in their first year in office lost at least 37 seats in the House of Representatives in the midterms, according to a Gallup study. In other cases, such losses averaged about 14 places.
New congressional elections, where the Democrats hold a small majority, are scheduled for November 8, 2022. American analysts predict that the Republicans can win back both the lower house and the Senate, including due to Biden's low rating. The reason for such forecasts was, among other things, the loss of the Democratic Party candidate in the November elections in Virginia: it is believed that the elections in this state reflect the general mood of voters (in 2009, the victory of a Republican in Virginia under Obama became a harbinger of the further dominance of the Republican Party).
The economy is being held hostage
When Biden came to power, the US inflation rate was 6.4%, the result of a protracted pandemic and related restrictions. Over the past year, American companies have created 6.5 million new jobs, which has reduced the unemployment rate to 3.9%. This figure was even lower than the official forecast of 4.6%. Overall employment is still below pre-pandemic levels, but jobless claims are at a 50-year low. The stock market is also growing. In 2021, the S&P 500 index set records 70 times and is up 29% overall (in Trump's first year there were 62 records, and the overall increase was 17%).
Low unemployment is overshadowed by record inflation, now at 7%— this is the highest rate since 1990. Consumer prices also grew by 7%, especially in the food and fuel segment.
From the first day of his presidency, Biden promised to achieve the adoption of a large-scale economic plan that would ensure stable economic growth, including through large-scale infrastructure projects. But the plan, presented in May last year, has yet to be passed by Congress, largely because of sharp differences between Democrats and Republicans. Another attempt to get the $1.75 trillion project through Congress was launched by the presidential administration and its Democratic supporters this week. However, the alignment has not changed much, according to Reuters: all 50 Republican senators are against the plan, there is no unity in the ranks of the Democrats either.
Successes and failures on the pandemic front
Fighting the pandemic decisively was one of Biden's top campaign promises. Even before taking office, his team had prepared a 200-page strategy for action, constantly criticizing the Trump administration for not having one. However, the plans of the headquarters of the Democratic President were confused first by the delta strain, and then by the “omicron”. As The Washington Post notes, Biden's strategy has only been partially implemented, and many unresolved problems remain. For example, hospital staff are dissatisfied with the fact that workplace safety standards have not been adopted permanently (temporary ones were adopted in June last year, but at the end of the year it became known that they could be canceled and Biden is not opposed to this). As the association of medical workers points out, reducing the quarantine in case of coronavirus to seven days or less if the hospital does not have enough medical staff,— this is an inadequate measure that can only lead to an increase in the number of diseases. Another failure— an unfulfilled plan for federal procurement of COVID tests, leading to Americans standing in long lines to get tested or spending long hours getting self-test kits. It was not possible to fully provide schools with tests, although the safety of students was also called one of the priorities of the president.
Another Biden idea— introduction of mandatory vaccination or mandatory weekly testing in companies with more than 100 employees— was rejected by the Supreme Court. Last week, he ruled that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not have the authority to pass such a thing. And Biden's other proposal— mandatory vaccination for medical workers in institutions funded from the federal budget,— the court upheld. The President was disappointed by the court's decision on the mandatory vaccination of employees of large companies. According to him, the court blocked the demands of common sense.
“Looking at the seven areas, I think we've made a lot of progress,” — assures Jeff Zients, chief coordinator of the presidential strategy. 210 million people have been fully vaccinated, 80 million have already received a booster dose. When Biden became president, only 15 million were vaccinated. However, he admits, some problems were underestimated, but mostly — the depth of disinformation and politically motivated opposition to the president's policies. Another interviewee of The Washington Post admits that it was impossible to foresee the appearance of the delta strain first, and then the omicron strain. As a result, in recent days, the United States has again recorded record levels of new cases of infection, deaths and hospitalizations: over the past 28 days, 16.27 million infections and 42 thousand deaths have been recorded. In total, since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 6.605 million infections and 854 thousand deaths.
Foreign policy without breakthroughs and surprises
“It is extremely rare, if ever in modern history, for foreign policy to mean as little to the position of the president at home as it does now,” describes the current situation in Foreign Policy magazine. There are two reasons— Americans are so immersed in the internal crisis that has engulfed the economy, the healthcare system and society as a whole that they are not interested in the international agenda, especially since nothing fundamentally new or significant is happening in the world, the publication continues, although Vladimir Putin and his actions in Ukraine may create an event, the authors agree. This created a comfortable atmosphere for Biden, allowing him to realize the goals formulated during the campaign. Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, Biden, then a presidential candidate, wrote that he intended to strengthen democracy abroad and at home to curb the challenges of autocracies, including China. He also promised to pursue a policy that would allow the US to win the competition with China, including trade. Another promise was to end the wars of the last 20 years.
As the head of the American Council on Foreign Affairs, Richard Haas, noted, Biden did not do much in his first year of work, but some important decisions were made. In particular, the president continued the course taken by Trump and ended the American presence in Afghanistan. The withdrawal operation, which receives a very low rating, has become a rare example of bipartisan agreement, Haas notes. A missed opportunity, according to Haas, was the UN climate conference, held last fall in Glasgow. The leading countries of the world did not take on increased obligations, which ensured an extremely modest result of the conference. At the same time, Biden put the climate agenda at the forefront, and one of his first decisions was the return of the United States to the Paris climate agreement. Another failure of democratic administration, continues Haas,— the lack of a coherent international trade policy, including with regard to China. Relations with China and North Korea have not changed significantly, the expert notes. Haas considers the strategy towards Russia to be generally successful— the threat of sanctions remains, but the Biden administration leaves room for a diplomatic settlement.
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