WASHINGTON (AP) – More U.S. adults disapprove than approve of how President Joe Biden handled the discovery of confidential documents in his home and former office, a new poll shows, but that appears to have had little impact on his index of overall liking.
The new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds that 41% of Americans say they approve of the way Biden is handling his job as president, roughly the same as the 43% who said so at December. In the new poll, 77% of Democrats approve of the way Biden is handling his job, while 91% of Republicans disapprove, both of which have changed little since late last year.
Biden, who will address a joint session of Congress in his State of the Union address next week, needs all the support he can muster as he fine-tunes his anticipated re-election campaign, and he has been working to focus voters on the his agenda and on the great legislative victories instead of the document desk.
Biden’s lawyers discovered classified items in a locked closet in November as they cleared out his office at the Penn Biden Center, a think tank where he worked briefly after leaving government. The documents were turned over to Justice Department officials. The discovery sparked a Special Counsel investigation, and additional documents were found at his Wilmington, Delaware home in searches by his attorneys and the FBI. Officers also searched Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and his former office at the Penn Biden Center.
More people disapprove than approve of his handling of the situation since the classified documents were found, 39% to 23%. Another 36% say they neither approve nor disapprove. Democrats are more likely to approve than disapprove, 44% to 15%, with 40% saying they have no opinion either way.
A majority of Republicans, 68%, say they disapprove, with 6% saying they approve and 24% expressing no opinion either way. Republicans are also somewhat more likely than Democrats to say they’ve heard at least some of the situation, 71% to 63%.
“It looks to me like he’s doing the right things, and this happens, people have these documents, Trump and now Mike Pence, too,” said Candace Porth, 72, of Phoenix, a Biden supporter. “It happens. I think the people who support Biden understand.
In subsequent interviews, some interviewees said they distinguished between Biden voluntarily handing over documents and the behavior of former President Donald Trump, who refused to hand over hundreds of documents, prompting the FBI to raid his home. However, many are concerned that leaders are failing to properly handle sensitive information.
“I feel like it’s a big deal overall,” said Jenifer Hudgins, 36, of Gadsden, Alabama, a Democrat who voted for Biden. It makes you wonder why they have these documents in their residences.
Trump is facing a special counsel investigation into his storage of several hundred classified and other government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida – and his resistance to relinquish them, which has led to an FBI warrant and a nocturnal search to seize them last August.
Banty Patel, a 46-year-old Republican from New Brunswick, New Jersey, said it sounds like the same problem to him, but Trump and Biden are being treated very differently.
“I think it’s worse for Joe Biden. He went on the news and said he would always respect the FBI and then they found out he also had papers.
Most Americans have paid at least some attention to the ongoing investigations into classified documents, but aren’t necessarily following them closely. The survey shows that 28% say they have read or heard a lot about the situation, while another 35% say they have heard about it but not much. A further 37% say they have heard little or nothing about it.
The FBI searched Biden’s Rehoboth Beach, Delaware home on Wednesday but found no classified documents, according to his personal attorney. The Bidens purchased that home, which overlooks a state park adjacent to the beach, in June 2017, months after stepping down from the vice presidency.
Officers took some handwritten notes and other materials relating to Biden’s time as VP for review, just as they did last month when they searched his Wilmington home, where they also found classified items.
Biden said he was surprised by the initial discovery of the documents. His lawyers have described his mishandling of documents as a “mistake”.
The administration’s public response has been marked by late and incomplete information. There are many unanswered questions: what information the documents contained, exactly how much was discovered, and why Biden had it in his possession. Still, Biden’s attorneys and officials in the White House counsel’s office insist he be as transparent with the public as possible.
“I’m more pro-Biden than Trump, but I think none of this should be in private hands, it’s not fair. They should be held in government buildings,” said Memduh Can, 45, of Falls Church, Virginia, who said he was an independent who voted for Biden. “For me, however, the most important thing is the economy. If it’s managed well, the country will be safer.”
The survey of 1,068 adults was conducted January 26-30 using a sample from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.