January 15, 2009

Strong Confidence in Obama - Country Seen As Less Politically Divided

Section 4: Favorability of Political Figures and Parties

Barack Obama’s favorability rating is much higher than those of his predecessors just before they were sworn in. While both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush enjoyed robust favorability ratings on the eve of their inaugurations, neither of their measures matches Obama’s current mark.

Nearly eight-in-ten Americans (79%) view the president-elect favorably; that compares with Bush’s 60% favorability rating in January 2001 and Clinton’s 69% rating in January 1993. Moreover, 40% now say they have a “very favorable” opinion of Obama, compared with 24% each for Bush and Clinton shortly before they took office.

Opinion of the president-elect is much less politically divided than were opinions of Bush and Clinton on the eve of their inaugurations. Obama is overwhelmingly popular with members of his own party (95% favorable), as were Bush (91%) and Clinton (91%), yet Obama also is viewed favorably by a majority of Republicans. Nearly six-in-ten Republicans (59%) say they have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 33% express an unfavorable opinion. By contrast, just 36% of Democrats had a favorable impression of Bush in 2001, while 56% held unfavorable views. Similarly, 40% of Republicans felt favorably toward Clinton in early 1993, compared with 50% who expressed a negative view.

Obama enjoyed high favorability ratings throughout the fall, but his popularity with the public has increased 13 points since mid-October, with much of the change coming among Republicans and independents. In October, just 34% of Republicans expressed a favorable opinion of Obama; that has increased 25 points, to 59%. More than three-quarters of independents (78%) now have a favorable impression of Obama, up from 68% in October. Obama remains overwhelmingly popular among Democrats; 95% now view him favorably, which is little changed from October (93%).

While Obama remains popular with people younger than 35, his favorability ratings among older age groups have increased since October. More than eight-in-ten (83%) of those 50 to 64 now view Obama favorably, up from 60% in October. Since October, there also has been a 21-point increase in positive views of Obama among those 65 and older, and an 11-point increase among those 35 to 49. Opinion of Obama those younger than 35 has remained stable, at 76% favorable. As a consequence, the age gap in positive opinions of Obama, which was sizable in October, has narrowed considerably.

Biden Favorability On Par With Incoming VPs

Opinions of Joe Biden also have improved since the election, although the improvement has been more modest than Obama’s. More than six-in-ten (63%) Americans now view the incoming vice president positively, up eight points since October. Overall opinion of Biden today mirrors that of both Dick Cheney and Al Gore just before they first took the oath of office.

However, Biden has much lower favorability among Republicans (36%) than Cheney had among Democrats in 2001 (50%); Gore also was more popular with Republicans (42%) than Biden is today. Biden’s positive ratings among independents (59%) and Democrats (87%) are roughly comparable to the ratings Cheney and Gore received among independents and members of their own parties.

Views of Incoming First Ladies

The balance of opinion about Michelle Obama is about the same as it was for Laura Bush shortly before she became first lady in 2001, but Obama is better known than Bush was then. About two-thirds (68%) say they have a favorable opinion of Michelle Obama; 15% say they have an unfavorable opinion. In January 2001, a majority (56%) held a favorable opinion of Laura Bush, while just 11% held an unfavorable opinion. A third of the public did not rate Laura Bush in January 2001, almost twice the percentage who did offer an opinion Michelle Obama (17%).

Michelle Obama’s rating now is a little higher than Hillary Clinton’s in the days just before Bill Clinton’s inauguration (63% favorable in January 1993). And, like her husband, Michelle Obama is now more popular than she was during the presidential campaign. In September, 56% expressed a favorable opinion of Michelle Obama while 25% held an unfavorable opinion.

Laura Bush’s Popularity Rebounds

Laura Bush’s image also has improved. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of the public now holds a positive opinion of the first lady, reflecting a considerable rebound in public opinion of Laura Bush since December 2007, when a much smaller majority viewed her positively (54%).

Laura Bush’s ratings have improved across the board, but the greatest shift is seen among younger people and Democrats. In December 2007, the balance of opinion about the first lady was negative among those younger than 30 (39% favorable, 46% unfavorable); today, more than six-in-ten (62%) of those younger than 30 hold a positive opinion of the first lady. In addition, a majority of Democrats (55%) now say they have a favorable impression of the first lady, up from 39% in December 2007.

Final Impressions of Bush and Cheney

As George W. Bush prepares to leave office, 37% say they have a favorable opinion of him, up from 31% last April. However, Bush will leave office with a job approval rating of 24%, up just two points from his all-time low of 22% measured in late October.

Positive ratings of Dick Cheney continue to trail those of Bush, as they have throughout the administration. Slightly more than three-in-ten (31%) give Dick Cheney a favorable rating. Views of Cheney among Democrats and independents have not changed significantly since December 2006. Over this period, positive ratings of Cheney among Republicans have slipped from 65% to 56%.

Democrats’ Growing Favorability Advantage

The Democratic Party has held a substantial favorability advantage over the GOP for more than two years, but the gap has never been as large as it is currently. More than six-in-ten (62%) say they have a positive opinion of the Democratic Party, while just 40% say they have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party.

The current favorability rating for the Democratic Party matches the highest measured in a Pew Research survey (62% in July 1994). Positive views of the Republican Party have stayed at around 40% for most of the past three years – with the exception of the period just after last year’s GOP convention, when 47% said they had a favorable opinion of the party.

Democrats overwhelmingly express favorable opinions of their own party (90%), while fewer Republicans hold a positive opinion of the GOP (74%). Nearly six-in-ten independents (58%) express positive opinions of the Democratic Party, compared with 38% who say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party.

Congress Viewed Unfavorably

While the Democratic Party enjoys high favorability, the public continues to express negative opinions of the Democratic-led Congress. Just 40% say they have a favorable opinion of Congress, while 52% have an unfavorable opinion. Views of Congress have changed little since last May (41% favorable), but the current favorability measure is the lowest recorded in a Pew Research survey.

Opinions of Congress have become increasingly polarized. Six-in-ten Democrats (60%) express a favorable opinion of Congress, up from 54% last May. Positive views of Congress among Republicans have declined by 11 points over this period (from 34% to 23%). About a third of independents view Congress favorably (32%), which is little changed from last May (35%).