January 15, 2009

Strong Confidence in Obama - Country Seen As Less Politically Divided

Section 1: Obama and His Administration

Public opinion about President-elect Obama’s transition continues to be very positive. Seven-in-ten approve of the job Obama has done so far in explaining his policies and plans for the future, while just 18% disapprove. These numbers have changed little since December (72% approve) and are significantly higher than opinions about George W. Bush (50%) and Bill Clinton (62%) before they took office.

An overwhelming majority of Democrats approve (92%) of the way Obama has explained his policies and plans. Democrats’ views have not changed since December and are considerably higher than those for Clinton in 1993 (77% of Democrats approved). In contrast, Republicans’ opinions are more evenly divided (44% approve, 41% disapprove), which is similar to Republicans’ views in December. In January 1993, 43% of Republicans approved of Clinton’s performance in explaining his policies. Two-thirds of independents (67%) approve of the job Obama has done explaining his future plans, down slightly from December when 76% approved. This is comparable to independents’ ratings of Clinton in 1993 (63% approve).

As is typically the case at the beginning of a new administration, a majority of Americans (65%) say that it is too early to tell whether Obama will be a successful or unsuccessful president. The balance of opinion among those who offer an opinion is much more positive than negative; 30% of the public says Obama will be a successful president while only 4% say he will be unsuccessful.

A comparable proportion said that Bush would be successful in January 2001 (26%), but slightly more said he would be unsuccessful (15%); 58% said it was too early to tell. In the summer of 1993, after Clinton had been in office six months, 60% said it was too early to tell; 13% said Clinton would be a successful president; and 25% thought he would be unsuccessful.

Nearly half of Democrats (47%) say Obama will be successful compared with only 24% of independents and 13% of Republicans. Large majorities of Republicans (77%) and independents (73%), as well as about half of Democrats (51%), say that it is too early to tell whether Obama will be a successful president.

Confidence in Obama

Substantial majorities of Americans express confidence in Obama to do the right thing when it comes to fixing the economy, preventing terrorist attacks and handling the war in Iraq. Three-quarters of the public (75%) says they have at least a fair amount of confidence in Obama to do the right thing when it comes to fixing the economy. Similarly, 71% say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in Obama to prevent future terrorist attacks and 69% say the same about Iraq.

There are substantial partisan differences in how much confidence people have in Obama to handle these issues. Democrats are overwhelmingly confident in Obama; 91% have at least a fair amount of confidence in Obama to do the right thing when it comes to the economy, 89% in preventing terrorist attacks and 88% in Iraq. Similarly, about seven-in-ten independents have at least a fair amount of confidence in Obama to do the right thing when it comes to terrorism (74%), the economy (73%) and Iraq (69%).

A narrow majority of Republicans (52%) say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in Obama to do the right thing in fixing the economy; 44% of Republicans say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in him to do the right thing in dealing with Iraq, while 39% have confidence in him to prevent terrorist attacks.

Obama’s Economic Stimulus Plan

More than eight-in-ten Americans have heard a lot (33%) or a little (53%) about Obama’s proposed $800 billion economic stimulus package. Only 13% have heard nothing at all about his stimulus plan. Of those who have heard about the plan, a majority (57%) thinks the proposal is a good idea, while 22% think it is a bad idea.

Three-fourths of Democrats (75%) who have heard at least a little about Obama’s proposal say it is a good idea, compared with 53% of independents and only 37% of Republicans. Conservative Republicans are particularly negative: half of conservative Republicans (50%) who have heard at least a little about the the plan say it is a bad idea, compared with 32% of moderate and liberal Republicans. Comparable majorities of liberal Democrats (79%), and moderate and conservative Democrats (73%), who have heard at least a little about the plan view it positively.

Overall, those who have heard more about the stimulus package are somewhat more likely to favor it; 63% who have heard a lot about the proposal think it is a good idea, compared with 53% who have heard a little. Democrats who have heard a lot about the proposal are particularly positive about it. Nearly nine-in-ten Democrats (87%) who have heard a lot about the proposal say it is a good idea, compared with 67% who have heard a little about it. The pattern is reversed for Republicans; those who have heard a lot about the plan are more likely to say it is a bad idea. More than half of Republicans (53%) who have heard a lot about the plan say it is a bad idea compared with only 36% who have heard a little.

Obama’s Influences and Appointments

A plurality of the public (44%) says that when it comes to national policy, Obama is listening more to moderates in his party while about a third (34%) says he listens more to liberals in his party. Shortly before George W. Bush took office in 2001, more people said he was listening to conservatives in his party than to GOP moderates (48% vs. 37%). As Bush began his second term in January 2005, 54% said he listened more to conservatives in his party and only 27% said he listened more to the party’s moderates.

Currently, half of Democrats say Obama is listening more to the party’s moderates while 27% say he is listening more to liberal Democrats. Independents, by a slightly smaller margin (46% to 34%) also say that Obama listens more to his party’s moderates. By comparison, nearly half of Republicans (48%) say Obama listens more to liberals in his party, while 37% say he listens more to moderate Democrats.

In general, Obama’s choices for cabinet positions and other high-level posts get positive marks and most people say it is a good thing that many of his appointees worked in the Clinton administration. Two-thirds (66%) say they approve of Obama’s choices for his cabinet and other high level appointments. That is down slightly from 71% in early December as he started to make his appointments, but is still higher than the percentages giving positive ratings to George W. Bush’s top appointees in January 2001 (58%), and George H.W. Bush’s in January 1989 (59%). It is comparable to the 64% approval mark for Bill Clinton’s choices in January 1993.

Nearly nine-in-ten Democrats (87%) say they approve of Obama’s cabinet choices, as do 63% of independents and 45% of Republicans. In January 2001, George W. Bush’s choices for the cabinet and other senior positions received about the same approval rating from Democrats that Obama’s choices currently receive from Republicans (44%).

Public views of Obama’s advisors’ ties with the Clinton administration are comparable to opinions expressed in 2001 about the ties that George W. Bush’s advisors had to his father’s administration. Currently, 59% say it is a “good thing” that many of Obama’s top advisors served in the previous Democratic administration, down slightly from 63% in early December. In 2001 as Bush took office, 56% said it was a good thing that so many of his top advisors had served in his father’s administration.

Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (79%) say it is a good thing that many Obama appointees also served under Clinton; just 4% see the ties to the Clinton administration as a bad thing. Independents, by 59% to 22%, also view the associations with the Clinton administration positively. Republicans, on balance, say it is a bad thing rather than a good thing that many of Obama’s advisors served in the Clinton administration (47% to 36%).

Most Plan to Watch the Inauguration

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say they plan to watch Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Not surprisingly, even higher percentages of Democrats, Obama voters and African Americans say they plan to tune in.

Fully 85% of Democrats say they plan to watch Obama’s inauguration, compared with 62% of independents and 49% of Republicans. Similarly, 89% of Obama voters say they plan to watch, while just 46% of McCain voters say the same. More than nine-in-ten (92%) African Americans plan to watch the historic inauguration, which is significantly more than the 63% of white respondents who expect to tune in.

Slightly more than four-in-ten (43%) say they would attend the inauguration if offered a ticket, while 56% say they would not attend. These results mirror a Fox Opinion Dynamics poll conducted in January 2005 in which 42% said they would attend that year’s Bush inaugural if offered a ticket and 57% said they would not attend.

As expected, far more Democrats (54%) and independents (46%) than Republicans (23%) say they would attend the inauguration if they were offered a ticket. Nearly two-thirds of those younger than 30 (65%) say they would attend the inauguration if they were offered a ticket, the greatest share of any age group. Just 19% of those ages 65 and older say they would attend the ceremony.