Released: December 11, 2008
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Section 4: Obama’s Transition
Public reaction to President-elect Obama’s transition thus far has been very positive. Large majorities approve of his choices for cabinet positions and other high level offices (71%) and the job he has done in explaining his policies and plans for the future (72% approve). More than six-in-ten (63%) say it is a good thing that many of his top advisors worked in the Clinton administration.
Most Americans also are satisfied with the ideological tenor of Obama’s appointments: 68% say they are “about right,” while 15% say they are too liberal and just 3% say they are too conservative. In particular, just 1% of liberal Democrats say Obama’s choices are too conservative, despite grumbling among some activists on the left.
Surveys conducted during previous presidential transitions have generally found a favorable public reaction to the incoming president and his actions, but public response to Obama’s appointments and speeches has been even more favorable than average. For example, 64% approved of President-elect Clinton’s cabinet appointments during the transition in 1993, and 58% approved of George W. Bush’s appointments during the same transition period eight years later. A 56% majority said that it was a good thing that many of Bush’s top advisors had served in his father’s administration. Obama’s ratings on all of these questions are significantly higher.
Obama is getting less laudatory marks – though on balance, still positive – for his explanation of how he would handle current problems with financial institutions and markets. Overall, 57% give him an excellent (19%) or good (38%) rating on this, but 21% say he has done only a fair job and 12% rate his explanations as poor. At the height of the presidential campaign in October, registered voters were evenly divided about the job Obama was doing in explaining how he would handle problems with financial institutions (48% excellent/good vs. 47% only fair/poor).
Partisan Reactions to Transition
On balance, more Republicans approve of Obama’s cabinet choices than disapprove (45% vs. 41%). Democrats and independents offer overwhelmingly positive opinions of Obama’s cabinet selections (89% and 75% approve, respectively).
In January 2001, George W. Bush’s cabinet choices received about the same approval rating from Democrats (44%) as Obama’s selections currently receive from Republicans. Bush’s selections received lower marks from independents (58%) than Obama’s today.
Notably, a plurality of Republicans (47%) say that Obama’s choices are about right ideologically; 35% say they are too liberal, while very few (2%) say they are too conservative. In January 2001, just a third of Democrats said Bush’s picks were about right, a
lthough as with overall approval of the selections, a relatively large proportion of Democrats (26%) offered no opinion.
Republicans are less positive about Obama’s use of Clinton-era advisors, with just 34% saying it’s a good thing Obama is relying on so many of them and 49% saying it’s a bad thing. Bush’s use of advisors from his father’s administration evoked a similar pattern of reactions among Democrats in January 2001.