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Politics chat: Biden's ratings down over Ukraine; midterms begin in Indiana and Ohio

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a surprise visit to Ukraine Saturday, where she met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The trip is a major show of support for the country's fight against Russia. It's an issue that President Biden has also been trying to put front and center - most recently requesting $33 billion in aid to help Ukraine. But as the conflict continues, American support of Biden's actions seem to be flagging. Joining me now to discuss this and more is NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Hey. So previously, the public had been more supportive of the Biden administration and what he's doing to support Ukraine. But now we're seeing those numbers start to sag. Like, you know, I mean, obviously, there's been a downward trend in Biden's poll numbers for months. Like, what's going on here?

MONTANARO: Well, yeah. I mean, we had our latest poll out this week - the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. We saw Biden's numbers from March until this month decline from 52 to 44% overall when it comes to his handling of Ukraine. Now, it's tough to say what's happening with Ukraine, except for the fact that you're continuing to see images over and over on television and people feeling like the West and the U.S. aren't able to do enough. You know, and that's why you have President Biden asking for so much more money to try to put arms to the country.

But the real issue here is that people's biggest concern is - are domestic issues - when you look at inflation, for example. And in our survey, with inflation being people's top concern, they trust Republicans to handle the issue of inflation by more than 20 points over Democrats. And that spells trouble in this midterm year for Democrats.

RASCOE: Are there any areas that people think Democrats would handle well?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, you look at a few areas - you know, the coronavirus, education, for example, abortion, climate change - all big areas where people seem to favor Democrats more. And some of those have been obviously controversial areas. The coronavirus, you could argue, is one of the big reasons President Biden was elected in the first place, aside from the antipathy to President Trump, of course. You know, and Democrats are favored by 12 points in dealing with this. We see three-quarters of Americans now saying that they're optimistic that the end of the pandemic is nearing. So Democrats have a bit of an advantage on that.

But right now, Republicans have been able to push issues like inflation, violent crime. You know, and immigration is a place that I'm really interested to watch what's going to happen over the next few months because it's going to become a bigger issue. We're expecting a surge at the border as the summer comes up. And people are really split right now on immigration, and I think that that'll be interesting to watch.

RASCOE: Democrats are also facing a lot of pressure on the issue of student debt. Biden said last week he's considering reducing graduates' debt, at least somewhat. Like, how'd this become such an urgent issue?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, it was a big campaign promise of President Biden...

RASCOE: Well, that's true.

MONTANARO: ...To cancel out some student debt. And young voters are a huge pillar of the Democratic Party. And what we've seen is not just his overall support flagging, but his support flagging with those younger voters. We've seen a decline over the last year by double digits among younger voters. They're growing more disaffected with the president, and they're disappointed. And what a lot of Democrats are seeing right now - the clock is ticking because Republicans are favored to take back the House and possibly the Senate.

RASCOE: OK. In just the few seconds we have left, there's going to be primaries in Indiana and Ohio. The Republican Senate primary in Ohio is very contentious. What should we expect?

MONTANARO: Yeah, some huge things here, especially considering President Trump's endorsements. He endorsed J.D. Vance in this primary - a lot of Republicans in the Trump base not happy about that. And a huge fight right now between Trump and some Republican allies - the Club for Growth, for example. And we're seeing that play out across the airwaves. And Democrats are hoping that if an extreme candidate gets in, that they might have a shot at this Ohio Senate race.

RASCOE: That is NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thank you so much for coming on.

MONTANARO: You're welcome, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.