March 16, 2009

Obama’s Approval Rating Slips Amid Division Over Economic Proposals

Section 1: Obama and the Economy

Nearly six-in-ten Americans (59%) approve of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president. About a month ago, 64% approved of his job performance. Obama’s disapproval ratings have grown significantly over this time; in early February, just 17% said they disapproved of the president’s handling of his job; today, 26% do so.

The public’s assessments of Obama’s job performance are similar to those seen for Ronald Reagan (60%), George H.W. Bush (56%) and George W. Bush (55%) at comparable points in their presidencies. By contrast, the public gives Obama a better job approval rating than Bill Clinton (53%). In March 1977, approval ratings for Jimmy Carter (70%) were significantly higher than Obama’s are today.

Over the past month, disapproval of Obama’s job performance has increased substantially among Republicans and independents, while Democratic evaluations remain overwhelmingly positive. Today, a majority of Republicans (56%) disapprove of Obama’s job performance, up from 41% in February. More than two-thirds of conservative Republicans (68%) have a negative opinion about the way Obama is handling his job, up 21 points over the past month. By contrast, opinions about Obama among moderate and liberal Republicans have been more stable and more positive. About half of moderate and liberal Republicans (49%) say they approve of his job as president while 30% disapprove; these percentages have changed little since February.

Most independents continue to approve of Obama’s performance (57% today, down from 63% last month). However, disapproval among independents has risen 13 points since February. As was the case in February, few Democrats express disapproval of Obama’s job performance (88% approve of his handling of the job, while just 5% disapprove).

Those with household incomes of $75,000 or more continue to express disapproval of Obama at higher levels than those at lower income levels, and disapproval has grown considerably among those in this group. Today, 37% express disapproval; in February, just 24% did so.

Opinions of Obama’s overall job performance also have declined significantly since February among Catholics, particularly white non-Hispanic Catholics. The balance of Obama’s job approval ratings remains favorable among Catholics overall (59% approve, 28% disapprove), although this reflects a 14-point increase in disapproval over the past month. White non-Hispanic Catholics are more evenly divided in their assessments of Obama’s job performance (47% approve, 41% disapprove); in February, those in this group approved of Obama’s job performance by more than three-to-one (61% approved, 20% disapproved).

Listening More to Liberals

Less than two months into his presidency, public perceptions have changed regarding whether Obama listens more to his party’s moderates or liberals. A plurality (44%) now says that Obama is listening more to liberals in the Democratic Party rather than to moderates (30%). In January, before Obama took office, 44% said he was listening more to the party’s moderates while 34% said he was listening more to its liberals.

Republicans now overwhelmingly believe that liberals in the Democratic Party (71%), rather than the party’s moderates (15%), have the president’s ear. In January, only about half of Republicans (48%) said that Obama was listening more to his party’s liberals.

More independents also believe that Obama is listening more to his party’s liberals, though the shift has been less pronounced than among Republicans. Nearly half of independents (47%) now say Obama is listening more to Democratic liberals than to moderates, up from 34% in January.

There has been little change in opinions among Democrats on this question. As was the case in January, Democrats are more likely to say Obama is listening more to moderates in the party than to liberals (43% vs. 22%), although Democrats are now increasingly likely to say they do not know or give no response (35% today vs. 23% in January).

Fewer See Obama as Liberal

While more believe Obama is listening to liberals within his party today than in January, somewhat fewer describe Obama himself as liberal than did so during the presidential campaign.

Currently, 43% identify Obama’s ideology as either moderate (26%) or conservative (17%); about the same percentage says he is a liberal (44%). Last October, a few weeks before the election, a majority of the public (52%) identified Obama as a liberal.

There continue to be wide partisan differences in assessments of Obama’s ideology. A large majority of Republicans (68%) view Obama as liberal, down slightly from 73% during the campaign. Among independents, 44% describe Obama as liberal, down slightly from 51% last October. Democrats today are divided in their view of Obama’s ideology; 34% say he is a moderate, 30% a liberal and 27% a conservative. Last October, significantly more (42%) described Obama as liberal, while 31% said he was moderate and 21% conservative.

Obama Not Seen as Overextended

In recent weeks, Obama has come under increasing criticism for trying to tackle too many issues in his first few months in office. A majority of Americans (56%) reject that criticism, saying he is doing about right, though 35% say he is trying to address too many issues at once. Most Republicans (53%) say that Obama has taken on too many issues, as do 36% of independents. Just 21% of Democrats agree.

Economic Policies: No Impact Yet

Most Americans believe that Obama’s economic policies and proposals have not yet affected economic conditions. More than six-in-ten (64%) say his policies have not affected the economy so far, while 15% say they have made conditions worse and 14% say they have made things better.

Majorities of Democrats (72%), independents (61%) and Republicans (55%) say Obama’s policies have had no effect so far. However, more than a third of Republicans (32%) say Obama’s policies have made economic conditions worse. By comparison, far fewer Democrats (20%) say Obama’s policies have improved conditions. Among independents, roughly the same percentages say they have made things worse (17%) as better (15%).

Among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more, 20% say Obama’s policies have made economic conditions worse while just 7% believe they have made things better; 67% say they have had no effe
ct. By contrast, 8% of those with incomes below $30,000 say Obama’s policies have worsened economic conditions while 18% say those policies have made conditions better.

A quarter (25%) of those who say they have given a great deal of thought to how Obama’s economic plans and policies will affect the economy say they have made economic conditions worse. That compares with 10% of those who have given less thought to Obama’s plans and policies.

Is Obama Doing Enough on Economy?

A majority of Americans (60%) say that Obama is doing as much as he can to improve economic conditions compared with 30% who believe he could be doing more. Opinions about his predecessors’ efforts on the economy were much more negative. In nine surveys between 2002 and 2004, no more than 48% (in January 2002) said George W. Bush was doing all he could to improve the economy. And in two 1992 surveys, just 21% said former President George H.W. Bush was doing all he could on the economy.

Republicans divide evenly on this question: 42% say he is doing all he can while about the same percentage (44%) says he could be doing more. Among independents, 52% say Obama is doing all he can on the economy and 37% say he could be doing more. By a wide margin (83% to 14%), Democrats believe Obama is doing all he can to improve economic conditions.