Biden unites country, but it’s not what you think

Majority of Americans agree we’re in real trouble

Americans have reached a staggering level of dissatisfaction not only with President Joe Biden, but with government as a whole, Winston writes. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images file photo)
Americans have reached a staggering level of dissatisfaction not only with President Joe Biden, but with government as a whole, Winston writes. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images file photo)
Posted June 8, 2022 at 6:00am

On Monday, gas prices hit another record high. A new poll showed the country slipping into what might be appropriately called a season of discontent. And the commander in chief forgot to remember D-Day, saving his skin with a last-minute, late-night tweet. Just the kickoff to another week in the Biden presidency.

But the sinking ship that is the White House these days hasn’t had a few bad days or even weeks. It’s been months of one crisis after another — one political fumble after another, with no end in sight to what has been an administration marked by incompetence, inflexibility and willful ignorance of reality.

It’s no wonder that the electorate has reached a staggering level of dissatisfaction not only with this president and his party, but with government as a whole. 

A Wall Street Journal/NORC poll out this week found the country in a “pessimistic mood,” with 83 percent of people seeing the economy as “poor or not so good” — a staggering assessment that the Journal said was “the highest level of dissatisfaction since NORC began asking the question in 1972.”

In the same poll, people were asked whether they were optimistic or pessimistic about “our system of government and how well it works.” Sixty-seven percent said they were pessimistic, while only 32 percent were optimistic. 

Our May 25-26 Winning the Issues survey found that 65 percent of voters think we’re headed for a recession. 

Gallup’s rolling poll (May 2-22) found that 83 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with “the way things are going in the United States at this time.” And in an Economist/YouGov survey (May 28-31), registered voters said prices were going in the wrong direction by an 81 percent to 9 percent margin. 

Biden has, at last, kept his promise to unify the country — the vast majority of Americans agree this country is in real trouble. 

When you see any issue coming in at over 80 percent, political leadership in both parties need to recognize that the country is dog-tired of constant crises, exacerbated by ideological division and distrust. For most Americans, it’s not about winning a political fight. It’s about leaders putting politics aside and working together to get the country back on track.  

People want action. They want someone to step up and turn things around. But they are rapidly losing hope in the ability of this president, political leaders or government itself to fix anything, much less the multitude of problems facing the country.

They see inflation strangling household economies. The damage isn’t limited to paying more for gas at the pump. Confidence in their leaders to solve the problem has also taken a hit. People understand that higher prices are the result of bad policy decisions to end the nation’s “all of the above” energy policies that were keeping energy prices low. They also understand that this president has put the priorities of special interest groups ahead of restoring the economy.

But inflation goes well beyond energy prices. It’s the cost of food as well. It’s paychecks that may be bigger but can’t cover the rising costs of day-to-day living. It’s shrinking retirements and college funds and the dreams that are now delayed if not destroyed. And it’s shortages of everything from cars to computer chips to baby formula. No one, especially those in charge, can explain how this can happen in America. 

People are worried about rising crime that is not only threatening their families and communities but fundamentally changing the social fabric of the country as people divide over the causes and cures of violence and hate. They worry about their children’s learning loss during the pandemic and see little being done to bring their kids back to grade level. 

Sadly, our public education system was failing our children long before anyone had ever heard the word COVID-19. For too many kids, getting back to pre-pandemic education levels also means getting back to being the world’s “C” students.

With growing problems like these, is it surprising that trust in government is at one of its lowest points? In a Pew Research Center report released earlier this week, only 20 percent of people said they trusted government to do what is right “just about always” or “most of the time.” A sad commentary today — but it represents what has been a decadeslong slide in the relationship between the American people and their government. 

The Pew poll (April 25-May 1) also found that 78 percent of Americans are either “frustrated with the federal government” (60 percent) or “angry” (18 percent), while only 22 percent “say they are basically content.” And only 22 percent say they are “proud of the way things are going in this country.” Given the state of America, can anyone blame them?

The Pew poll did have some good news to report, finding that 68 percent of Americans “say they have some or quite a lot of confidence in the future of the United States, similar to the shares saying this in both 2020 and 2021.”

Americans have always been a hopeful people, whether seeking independence or setting foot on the sands of Omaha Beach or the face of the moon. Optimism and an unbridled faith in the future have been a part of our DNA for more than 200 years. I believe it still is.

But as people hold on to their belief in the enduring American dream, there is a growing uncertainty as they wonder whether their leaders and their government are up to the task of today’s challenges. That uncertainty brings with it the risk of an increasingly volatile and impatient electorate fearful that government is taking more than it delivers. 

Policymakers and political leaders need to remember what’s driving voters — a focus on outcomes and solutions, not partisan victories.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as serving as an election analyst for CBS News.