AJC poll: Biden’s approval in Georgia takes a nosedive

President Joe Biden’s approval rating has fallen off a cliff in Georgia, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Thursday that showed just one-third of registered voters approve of the Democrat’s job performance.

That’s a sharp decline from the 51% of voters who gave Biden high marks in the AJC’s May poll. And it’s a troubling sign for Democrats eager to build off their victories in the last election, which ended with a narrow Biden victory and a Democratic sweep of U.S. Senate runoffs.

The poll also found Gov. Brian Kemp ahead of Democrat Stacey Abrams in an early test of that potential rematch. In a hypothetical race that pits Abrams against Kemp’s primary rival, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, the two finish in a statistical tie.

And it indicated that former football player Herschel Walker, the best-known Republican in the race for the U.S. Senate, is essentially tied in a potential race against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock in one of the most closely watched and expensive contests in the nation.

The poll was conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs between Jan. 13 and 24. It involved 872 registered voters and has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

It offers a snapshot of the Georgia electorate’s mood nearly a year before the election in a closely divided state that’s features races for every constitutional office and a U.S. Senate seat that could decide control of the chamber in November.

The poll found Georgians in a pessimistic frame of mind. Most Georgians — 71% — believe the nation is heading down the wrong track, including nearly all Republicans and about half of Democrats. That compares with 52% of Georgians who felt that way in May.

Views of the state were slightly better, with 48% of those polled saying the state was on the wrong track, compared with one-third of registered voters who said it was headed in the right direction.

Combined ShapeCaption
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, center, leads Democrat Stacey Abrams in a poll taken this month for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She fares better in a hypothetical matchup against Kemp's primary rival, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, center, leads Democrat Stacey Abrams in a poll taken this month for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She fares better in a hypothetical matchup against Kemp's primary rival, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

Combined ShapeCaption
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, center, leads Democrat Stacey Abrams in a poll taken this month for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She fares better in a hypothetical matchup against Kemp's primary rival, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

Georgians are more closely divided when it comes to Kemp, a first-term Republican facing a Donald Trump-backed challenge from his right and Abrams on his left. About 48% of registered Georgia voters approve of his job performance.

Yet among the GOP base, Kemp faces lingering animosity. About one-quarter of conservatives give the governor poor reviews, including 16% who say they “strongly” disapprove. It’s precisely the divide that Perdue, who entered the race with Trump’s blessing, is trying to exploit.

For Perdue and other Trump-backed candidates, there was another ominous sign. Only about 20% of Georgians said the former president’s endorsement would make them more likely to support that candidate. Nearly half of voters said they would be less likely to vote for someone with Trump’s blessing.

Still, the poll showed Trump’s influence remains solid among GOP voters. About 42% of Republicans said they’d be more likely to vote for one of his endorsed candidates, while just as many said they weren’t quite sure.

Voting replaces economy as top issue

At the heart of Trump’s appeal to Georgia Republicans are lies about widespread election fraud in the state, which have been rejected by bipartisan officials and judges, and disproved by multiple tallies of the vote and audits of absentee ballots.

As Georgia became the center of the national debate over election laws and falsehoods about the vote, the focus of residents has shifted.

Two years ago, the AJC poll found that the economy was the most important issue facing Georgians. In the latest survey, elections was the top issue, followed by the economy, the pandemic and crime.

Combined ShapeCaption
In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll this month, only about 20% of Georgians said an endorsement by former President Donald Trump would make them more likely to support that candidate. About 42% of Republicans said they’d be more likely to vote for one of Trump's endorsed candidates. (Elsa/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll this month, only about 20% of Georgians said an endorsement by former President Donald Trump would make them more likely to support that candidate. About 42% of Republicans said they’d be more likely to vote for one of Trump's endorsed candidates. (Elsa/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Combined ShapeCaption
In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll this month, only about 20% of Georgians said an endorsement by former President Donald Trump would make them more likely to support that candidate. About 42% of Republicans said they’d be more likely to vote for one of Trump's endorsed candidates. (Elsa/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Only about one-third of Georgians say their financial situation is better off than a year ago, compared with 42% who say they’re worse off. Roughly one-quarter of voters say it’s the same.

And a slight majority of Georgians say that the economic problems “are the result of government policies and won’t change until we change the political leadership.” Roughly 36% of Georgians, on the other hand, blame the pandemic for the problems and are optimistic it will improve.

“I will be glad when he’s gone. He has been terrible for the country. Especially if you’re on a fixed income,” said Gail Tabor, a retiree in Baxley who blamed the president for higher gas prices and grocery costs that seem “twice what we paid for it last year.”

The president’s supporters pleaded for patience. Leon Brown, a longtime construction worker in Atlanta, said it’s premature to condemn or praise Biden.

“A lot of folks are criticizing him, but he’s trying to clean up a lot of garbage that’s been dumped on him,” said Brown, who voted for Biden in 2020. “It’s too early to be critical.”

Down-ticket struggles?

A closer look at Biden’s poll numbers shows other signs of discontent with his presidency. The 62% of voters who disapprove of him include key elements of the coalition that helped elect him.

Only 5% of Democrats gave him an unfavorable review in the AJC’s May poll; in this poll the number rose to 21%. His support among independents fell sharply, too. But the contrast was particularly sharp in the most powerful constituency in the state Democratic Party.

In May, only about 8% of Black voters disapproved of Biden’s performance. That number had more than quadrupled in the AJC’s latest poll, which found disapproval among Black Georgians at 36%.

That’s a distressing sign for Democrats, whose struggles go beyond Biden.

In hypothetical matchups in the race for governor, Kemp held an edge over Abrams, who soared to national prominence after her narrow defeat to Kemp in 2018. In this poll, Kemp led Abrams 48% to 41%, while Perdue and Abrams were at 47% and 43%, respectively, a difference that pollsters say is statistically insignificant.

The poll was more of a mixed bag for Warnock, a pastor who is the state’s first Black U.S. senator. About 44% of Georgians gave Warnock high marks, while 35% disapproved of how he’s handling the job. About one-fifth said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion.

He was deadlocked in a one-on-one race against Walker, a political newcomer endorsed by Trump. The poll pegged Walker at 47% and Warnock at 44%, within the margin of error. Warnock had a clearer edge, however, over another Republican rival, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, whom he led 46% to 41%.

Staff writer Tia Mitchell contributed to this article.