Barack Obama enters his fourth year in office with about as many Americans disapproving (48%) as approving (44%) of the job he is doing in office. A notable change over the past year is the president’s standing among independents. Currently, 56% of independents disapprove of the job Obama is doing in office, while just 37% approve. A year ago, independents were divided evenly (44% approve, 45% disapprove).
Obama is doing far worse among independents than his predecessors at the same point in his presidency. In January 2004, independents approved of the job George W. Bush was doing by a 52% to 34% margin, and 50% of independents approved of Bill Clinton’s job performance in January 1996. Even George H.W. Bush was in a stronger position among independents in January 1992 than Obama is today. In January 1992, Bush had a comparable 39% approval rating among independents, but just 45% disapproved, compared with the 56% who disapprove of Obama’s performance today.
Americans are divided in their assessments of Obama’s long-term achievements. While 43% believe that in the long run the administration’s accomplishments will outweigh its failures, about the same number (44%) believe the failures will outweigh the accomplishments. At the start of 2004, more saw the Bush administration’s accomplishments outweighing its failures by a 49% to 36% margin. After his reelection, this evaluation turned sharply negative, and by December of 2008 64% said the Bush administration’s failures would outweigh its accomplishments.
On another measure, 32% predict that Obama will end up being an unsuccessful president while 27% predict he will be successful, and 39% say it is still too early to tell. While fewer now believe it is too early to judge than did so last year, the relatively even balance of opinion on Obama’s long term success is little changed. As George W. Bush entered his re-election year, more thought his presidency would be successful than unsuccessful by roughly two-to-one (39% vs. 20%, with 38% saying it was too early to tell).
Obama Doing Better on Foreign than Domestic Issues
Obama continues to get stronger ratings on foreign and security policy than on economic issues at home. While opinion remains mixed as to his overall foreign policy (46% approve, 45% disapprove), Obama receives widely positive marks for his handling of terrorism (65% approve) and Afghanistan (56% approve). Reviews of Obama’s Afghanistan policy, in particular, improved earlier this year after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and have remained positive since.
And with increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, slightly more approve (48%) than disapprove (41%) of how Obama is dealing with the situation. This represents a 6-point increase in approval on Iran since the question was last asked a year ago.
Although Obama’s foreign policy ratings are stable or improving, he has lost substantial ground on his handling of energy policy in just the past few months. Currently, just 36% of the public approves of how Obama is handling energy policy, while 46% disapprove. This is a reversal of the balance of opinion during much of 2010 and 2011. As recently as November, 44% approved of the job Obama was doing on energy, while 38% disapproved.
Two months ago, 69% of Democrats approved of the job Obama was doing on energy policy; that figure has dropped 13 points to 56%. There has been less change in opinions among independents (down six points) and Republicans (one point).
Obama gets better marks for his handling of the environment; about half the public (49%) approves of the job Obama is doing, while 36% disapproves. These figures are virtually unchanged from April, and there has been no loss of Democratic support on the environment,with 75% approving of Obama’s job performance on the issue.
Majorities continue to disapprove of the job Obama is doing handling the economy and the federal deficit. About six-in-ten disapprove of each. Disapproval on the deficit is up since November, from 57% to 62%.
Of the eight items tested, the economy and deficit have thelargest partisan gaps. Just 11% of Republicans approve of the job Obama isdoing with the economy, while 69% of Democrats do. Just 14% of Republicans approve of Obama’s handling of the deficit, compared with 63% of Democrats.
Little Change in Obama’s Personal Image
Obama continues to be widely viewed as a good communicator (78% say this phrase reflects their impression of him), someone who stands up for what he believes in (75%), warm and friendly (71%) and well-informed (69%). Somewhat fewer view Obama as someone who cares about people like them (61%) and trustworthy (also 61%). These impressions have changed little over the past two years.
By contrast, a narrow majority (52%) views Obama as a strong leader and slightly fewer (46%) say he is able to get things done. Views of Obama as a strong leader fell in 2010, rebounded a bit in May of last year following the killing of Osama bin Laden, and declined again in August. The current measure is little changed from August.
The percentage saying Obama is able to get things done also declined in August – to 44% from 55% in May and 54% in January 2011. Obama’s current rating for effectiveness also has changed little since August.
As in the past, there are wide partisan differences in views of Obama’s personal traits, particularly in perceptions of his trustworthiness and leadership. Nonetheless, while Republicans are less likely than Democrats to view Obama positively on all dimensions, majorities of Republicans say Obama is a good communicator, stands up for what he believes in, is warm and friendly and well-informed.
Majorities of independents also view the president positively on nearly every trait, with two notable exceptions. Just 44% of independents say Obama is a strong leader while about the same percentage (41%) says that he is able to get things done.
Obama’s Ideology, Influences
Perceptions about Obama’s ideology are divided and strongly related to party affiliation. Overall about four-in-ten (43%) say that Obama is liberal, while only somewhat fewer (37%) say he is “middle of the road” ideologically. Far fewer (13%) describe him as conservative. This pattern is essentially unchanged since the beginning of his presidency.
However, views of where Obama stands differ greatly by party. Two-thirds of Republicans (67%) believe that Obama is liberal, while only 30% of Democrats agree. A plurality of Democrats (46%) characterize Obama as middle of the road. Equal numbers of independents see Obama as liberal or middle of the road (41% each), but this breakdown conceals the fact that 61% of independents who lean Republican view Obama as a liberal while a majority of Democratic-leaning independents (53%) see him as middle of the road.
These ideological perceptions coincide with opinions about which segment of the Democratic Party – the liberal members or the moderate members – Obama is listening to more. Overall the public is divided evenly on this question: 42% say he’s listening more to liberal Democrats, 41% say moderate Democrats.
Only about one-in-five Democrats (22%) believe that Obama is listening more to the liberal side of the party. That reflects an eleven point decline since June of 2010, when 33% said he was listening more to liberals in the party. Currently, 58% of Democrats think Obama is listening more to moderates in the party, up from 44% in 2010. Among Republicans, there has been little change in the majority view that Obama mostly listens to liberal Democrats.
Obama in a Word
When asked what one word best describes people’s impressions of Barack Obama, the most frequent responses are Good (24 mentions) Incompetent (21), Intelligent (19), Socialist (17), Honest (16), Trying (16) and Disappointing (15).
All of these words have been used in the past to describe the president. Mentions of some words have increased, however. For instance, in January 2010, six respondents used the word Disappointing to describe their impression of the president. Last year, nine respondents described him as Disappointing and this year 15 respondents used this word.
Some new words appear on this year’s list of one-word descriptions of Obama. Among positive descriptors, seven respondents describe Obama as Hardworking. Among negative words, Sucks appears for the first time; seven respondents used this word to describe their impression of the president.