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Suburban voters praise Biden on COVID, but raise economic, border concerns in new study

Adam Wollner
·4 min read

Suburban voters with a college degree tepidly approve of President Joe Biden’s job performance as he approaches 100 days in office, with reservations about his agenda increasing as concerns about the pandemic fade, according to a new study from a center-right group.

N2 America, a nonprofit organization focused on the suburbs that was formed by a group of Republican operatives, surveyed an online panel of 40 college-educated suburban voters in battleground counties across the country every week since Biden’s inauguration in January.

Over that period, N2 America found that group generally praised Biden for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and liked him personally. But as their anxieties over COVID-19 started to recede with the uptick in vaccinations, they expressed growing concerns about the rest of the president’s agenda, particularly his plans for spending, taxes and the U.S.-Mexico border.

College-educated suburban voters were critical to Biden’s 2020 election success as they drifted away from the GOP during former President Donald Trump’s tenure, and are poised to be a major swing group once again in the 2022 midterm elections as both parties fight for control of Congress.

“Back in January, suburban voters were craving a vanilla, boring presidency. For most part in the first few weeks, they were getting it,” Robert Blizzard, a GOP pollster who works with N2 America, said in an interview. “The honeymoon is now starting to end, looking on the other side of the virus.”

The panel of voters said they believed the worst of the pandemic was over and at least some sense of normalcy was being restored. But they still saw the country as on the wrong track overall, with some describing it as “divided,” “chaotic” and “dysfunctional.”

Aside from COVID-19, the voters’ top priority was the economy. They expressed concerns about inflation, job losses caused by the pandemic and the price tag of the stimulus and infrastructure packages.

“I like his efforts surrounding the pandemic and getting vaccines rolled out, and listening to the science behind it, not whims,” said one Minnesota male voter who participated in the panel. “I do appreciate the latest stimulus package, but as with any I’m sure there’s unnecessary pork built in.”

Some of the voters also said they worried that Biden’s proposal to raise taxes on corporations and individuals earning more than $400,000 annually would harm the broader economy, even if the tax increases wouldn’t directly affect them.

After the economy, N2 America found immigration was the next biggest concern, with most of the voters believing there is a crisis at the border due to a surge of migrant crossings.

“While President Biden has brought more order to a seemingly chaotic White House under the prior administration, I find the growing crisis at the Mexican border is clearly his doing and may be his undoing so early into his first year as POTUS,” said one New York female voter.

Some voters also raised concerns about Biden revoking permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, fearing the decision could lead to job losses and rising oil prices, and questioned whether he could work in a bipartisan fashion and help unify the country.

“He does definitely seem like a nice person,” said one Florida male voter. “But his job is to be president, and I definitely don’t agree with some of the policies that he’s putting in place.”

The panel offers only a snapshot of how a very specific group of swing voters feel about the start of Biden’s presidency. But many of the sentiments the voters expressed are at least partially reflected by Biden’s current position in the polls.

FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average shows roughly 53% of Americans approving of his job performance and 40% disapproving. His highest marks from the public so far have generally come on his handling of the pandemic, while his lowest are typically on immigration.

Most national surveys show a majority of suburban and college-educated voters approving of the job he is doing as president. In 2020, Biden won suburban voters 50% to 48% and college-educated voters 55% to 43%, according to national exit polls. By comparison, Trump carried suburban voters 49% to 45% while losing college-educated voters 42% to 52% in 2016.

Blizzard, the Republican pollster, said while there are early signs of college-educated suburban voters souring on some of Biden’s policies, the GOP still has a long road ahead to win them over.

“That’s the challenge. They are free agents, but they are not just automatically going to come over to the Republican Party now,” Blizzard said. “You have to be on offense with these voters.”

N2 America’s panel featured voters from swing counties in Arizona, California, Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The group of 40 adults was a mix of Democratic-leaning, Republican-leaning and independent voters.