Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Obama’s Ratings Little Affected by Recent Turmoil

Section 1: Views of Obama

Barack Obama’s overall job rating has changed very little over the first six months of 2010, with just under half (48%) of the public now saying they approve of his performance in office; 43% disapprove. This is virtually unchanged from his 49% to 42% margin in January. While disapproval rose noticeably over the course of 2009, it has moved little in the last six months.

More than three-quarters (78%) of Democrats approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president. That is little changed from May (77%), though down somewhat from January (84%). Obama’s approval rating among independents, which stood at 39% at the beginning of the year and 37% in March, has increased slightly to 44%. Republican job approval now stands at 16%, about where it was in January (15%).

Approval among Hispanics Declines

In January, 71% of Hispanics approved of Obama’s job performance; that figure has slipped to 58% in the new survey. Over the same period, the proportion of Hispanics who disapprove of his job performance has risen from 18% to 33%.

In 2010 Obama’s job rating has been steady among non-Hispanic blacks and whites. The vast majority of African Americans (91%) continue to approve of Obama’s job performance. Among whites, 38% approve of the job he is doing, while 52% disapprove, which is unchanged from January.

Strong Approval Steady

The stability in Obama’s approval rating over the course of 2010 is also seen in the intensity of these views. As in January, as many Americans very strongly disapprove of Obama as very strongly approve of the job he’s doing. In the current survey, 31% very strongly disapprove and 29% very strongly approve. Compared with last spring, the balance of strong approval vs. strong disapproval has evened out. In April 2009, strong approval exceeded strong disapproval by 45% to 18%.

A majority of Democrats (55%) very strongly approve of Obama’s job performance while 61% of Republicans very strongly disapprove. Both measures are little changed from January, but the percentage of liberal Democrats who strongly approve of Obama’s job has fallen 14 points – from 70% to 56% – since the beginning of the year. By contrast, conservative Republicans are not any more likely to express strong disapproval: 73% did so in January, 70% do so today.

Overall, more independents very strongly disapprove (31%) than very strongly approve (21%) of Obama’s job performance. About six-in-ten (58%) GOP-leaning independents very strongly disapprove of Obama’s job performance; by comparison, a smaller proportion of Democratic-leaning independents (40%) very strongly approve of how Obama is handling his job.

Approval on Issues

Obama’s ratings for handling foreign and domestic issues have changed very little since the start of the year. He receives his highest job ratings on energy policy, the wa rs in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for his handling of foreign policy (45% approve of each). Obama gets about the same ratings on the economy (43%) and health care (42%), and lower ratings for the Gulf oil leak (39%), the budget deficit (35%) and immigration (33%).

Wider Partisan Gaps Over Obama’s Job on Domestic Issues

As was the case in January, there are wider partisan differences over Obama’s handling of domestic issues than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The most pronounced differences are over health care and the economy: Fully 70% of Democrats approve of the way Obama is handling health care compared with just 15% of Republicans. The gap is nearly as great over Obama’s handling of the economy (68% of Democrats approve vs. 16% of Republicans).

Republicans give Obama higher ratings on Iraq (39% approve) and Afghanistan (32%) than on domestic issues. As a result, partisan differences in evaluations of Obama’s job on those issues, while substantial, are not as large (21 points on Iraq, 30 points on Afghanistan).

Roughly four-in-ten independents approve of Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan (43% approve) the economy (41%) and energy policy (40%). Obama receives his lowest approval ratings from independents on the Gulf oil leak (33%) and immigration policy (30%).

Obama’s Personal Image

Assessments of Obama’s image remain, on balance, positive, although ratings on some personal characteristics have eroded in recent months. Clear majorities continue to characterize the president as a good communicator (77%), warm and friendly (68%), well-informed (67%), well-organized (63%), caring about people like them (60%), trustworthy (58%), and able to get things done (55%). And, on balance, more say Obama is a strong leader (53%) than say he is not (42%).

Nevertheless, Obama now gets lower ratings on several of these measures than he did at the beginning of the year. Significantly fewer say Obama is a strong leader (down nine points), warm and friendly (down nine points), well-organized (down seven points), or a good communicator (down six points). These declines are on par with the shift in Obama’s overall favorability rating, which is now at 56%, down from 65% in November 2009 (see Obama’s Favorable Rating Slips, Michelle’s Stays Strong, June 14, 2010).

The public views Obama similarly or somewhat better on many of these personal characteristics than the two previous presidents at similar points in their presidency. More see Obama as well-organized, able to get things done, trustworthy and well-informed than said the same about Bill Clinton in July 1994, but Clinton got better marks for being warm and friendly. And Obama gets similar ratings as Bush in September 2003 on many of these measures, but more said Bush was a strong leader and able to get things done. However, by the summer of 2006, Bush’s ratings on both of these characteristics had dropped significantly.

Partisan Views of Obama’s Image

More than three-fourths of Democrats rate Obama positively on all eight traits tested. Republicans have a much more negative view of Obama. While majorities of Republicans continue to say he is a good communicator (60%) and warm and friendly (52%), they are far more critical on other dimensions. About three-fourths (76%) say he is not a strong leader, 69% say he is not trustworthy, 64% say he is not able to get things done, and 63% say he does care about people like them.

Independents continue to evaluate Obama positively on most personal traits with large majorities saying he is a good communicator, well-informed, and warm and friendly. But they are now divided on whether he is a strong leader; 48% say he is a strong leader while 46% say he is not.

Fewer See Obama as Strong Leader

In February 2009, shortly after Obama took office, 77% said he was a strong leader. That figure fell to 62% in January of this year and to 53% in the current survey. The biggest declines in perceptions of Obama as a strong leader have come among Republicans and independents.

In February 2009, a majority of Republicans (56%) said that Obama was a strong leader. That fell to 34% in January of this year and to 22% in the current survey. Among independents, there has been a 30-point decline in the percentage saying Obama is a strong leader since February of last year (from 78% to 48%). This year alone, the proportion of independents saying Obama is a strong leader has fallen from 58% to 48%.

There has been less change in opinions among Democrats. Still, fewer Democrats view Obama as a strong leader than did so at the start of the year (80% now, 88% then).

Who Has Obama’s Ear?

More Americans continue to say that Obama is listening more to liberals in his party than to moderates (46% vs. 34%). Opinions on this question have changed only modestly in the past year. In February, 44% said Obama was listening more to liberals in his party while 35% said he was listening more to moderates.

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) say Obama is primarily listening to liberal Democrats, while just 21% say he is listening to moderates in the Democratic Party. Conservative Republicans are much more likely than moderate or liberal Republicans to say he is listening to liberal Democrats (74% vs. 48%).

Democrats are more likely to say he is listening to moderate members of their party than to liberals (44% vs. 33%). And there continues to be little difference between conservative and moderate Democrats and liberal Democrats.

Independents are more divided in their opinion with a somewhat greater share saying Obama is listening more to liberal (44%) than moderate (36%) members of his party. However, by more than a three-to-one margin, independents who lean to the GOP say he is listening more to liberal than moderate Democrats (67% vs. 19%). And far more independents who lean to the Democratic Party say he is listening to moderates rather than to liberals (53% vs. 31%).

A majority of the public (52%) continues to say that Obama has a new approach to politics in Washington while 40% say his approach is business as usual. That is little changed from December 2009, but in September 2009, 63% said he had a new approach while 30% said his approach was business as usual. A majority of Democrats (64%) continue to say Obama has a new approach to politics while Republicans and independents are more divided in their views.

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