With the omicron wave receding across the U.S., frustration with pandemic lockdowns and restrictions is on the rise. Among almost every segment of society—the vaccinated and unvaccinated, Republicans and Democrats, city dwellers and their country cousins—growing numbers of Americans are becoming resigned to living with Covid-19, even if it means accepting that more people will get sick and die. The Biden administration, though, hasn’t changed its message. “The president’s goal is to defeat the virus,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in January.
That disconnect is emerging as a central political challenge for President Joe Biden as he prepares to deliver his State of the Union address on March 1. With disapproval of his handling of the crisis steadily increasing, he’s well out of step with the public—including, crucially, many Democrats. That unpopularity risks sinking the party’s candidates in elections this fall and imperils its slim hold on Congress. A survey of battleground states from Cygnal, a Republican polling company, found that most voters are now more concerned about the economic toll of Covid than the health impact. “This is driven by independent and suburban voters really souring in their view of the country’s direction and President Biden’s handling of the crisis,” says Cygnal President Brent Buchanan.