By Erin Norman, the Lee Family Fellow and Senior Messaging Strategist at State Policy Network.
President Biden will make the traditional State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress tonight. In his speech, Biden will set out his priorities for the federal government for the coming year. But voters are not interested in additional federal laws and one-sided policy from Biden lawmakers in Congress. Instead, they want compromise and to be governed by local leaders that they can hold accountable.
The president is expected to talk about the progress his administration has made on combatting the COVID-19 virus. But approval of how Biden has handled the pandemic has been steadily declining since July 2021, and has been underwater since January of this year, with 48 percent disapproving of his response compared to 43 percent who approve. Compare this to data from State Policy Network’s February State Voices poll which shows 57 percent of registered voters believe their state government has handled the coronavirus in an appropriate way. While Biden’s approval on responding to the pandemic is polarized, at least half of voters of all political affiliations believe their state made good COVID-19 policy—demonstrating that the state governments are more in tune with what their citizens need and respond accordingly.
Indeed, the SPN State Voices poll found that voters believe states should be able to make laws that reflect the different values, priorities, and needs of their citizens, assuming no Constitutional rights are violated, by a two-to-one margin. State-based government is more trusted as well, earning at least some trust of 61 percent of voters, compared to the 51 percent who trust the federal government.
Local communities are already responding to what their people want and need on issues Biden would rather federalize. Minneapolis led in cutting police funding as a mechanism for reducing police brutality. The subsequent crime spike and outcry of the city’s residents has led the city to add more funding to the police budget, with one ousted Council Member noting “there wasn’t the political will” to defund the police.
Mayors of other progressive cities like Eric Adams in New York and London Breed in San Francisco have made reversal on crime as well, promising locals to get tough and take back their cities. And unlike Biden, they have the power to do it. Local leadership can work with the individual police forces and district attorneys to provide resources and guidance that creates an environment of crime deterrence instead of a wild west free-for-all. Federal laws mean little if local police can’t or won’t enforce them. Mayors and city governments are also in a better position to see and act on misconduct in the system, and often have the exclusive ability to discipline because of it.
While many issues are best left to the states, there will be some policies to tackle at the federal level. Here Biden must be ready to work with Members of Congress on both sides in good faith to meet the expectations of the people. Biden may be tempted to govern by agency regulations should Republicans in Congress not agree with his policy approaches, but voters find this approach distasteful. Over three-in-five voters believe too many of our laws are regulations created by unelected agency officials. And half of voters believe laws passed by elected officials create the best outcomes compared to just 27 percent who believe bureaucrats do the best job.
If President Biden wants to turn his Administration around, he needs to be prepared to compromise in a way the Democrats have not been willing to do so far in his presidency. His office must work with Congress, not circumvent them through regulation, to identify solutions that include voices from all sides of issues. The President must also recognize when issues are best left to the localities that control and experiment with the best solutions. In short, if President Biden wants to accomplish the list of goals he will likely discuss tonight, he’ll need to know when to step back.