July 30, 2009

Obama’s Ratings Slide Across the Board

Section 1: Opinions About Obama

Obama’s overall job approval among the public has declined substantially since last month. While a majority (54%) continues to approve of the job he is doing, his rating is down seven points from June (61%).

The drop in approval is particularly steep among 30-to-49-year-olds; today, only about half (49%) of those in this age group approve of Obama’s job performance, a 14-point decline from one month ago. Among other age groups, there has been no significant shift in approval of the president.

Americans with lower annual family incomes (less than $30,000) also hold significantly less positive views of the president’s performance today than they did in June (55% approve today vs. 65% in June). By contrast, there has been little change in the opinions of the more affluent (those with annual incomes of $75,000 or more) over the past month.

As was the case last month, about half of whites (48%) approve of how Obama is handling his job. There has been essentially no shift in opinion among affluent whites, as a 54% majority continues to approve of Obama’s job performance. However, among whites with annual family incomes of less than $75,000, Obama’s approval ratings have declined substantially (from 57% in June to 47% today). Assessments of Obama’s performance remain high among African Americans (85%).

Drop off in Approval Seen Primarily Among Republicans, Independents

Obama’s job rating among independents and Republicans is now significantly lower than at any other point in his presidency. While Democrats are less supportive of Obama on a number of specific issues, overall job approval among Democrats is little changed from earlier in the year.

Republican assessments of Obama’s job performance – already negative since February – have taken a sharp turn for the worse over the past month. Just 19% of Republicans say they approve of his overall job performance, a 12-point drop since June.

At the same time, independent opinion also has become less positive. While a plurality of independents approves of the job Obama is doing (48% approve, 37% disapprove), this is an eight-point decline in approval since June. By contrast, Democrats continue to approve of Obama’s job performance at levels similar to those seen over the course of the last six months.

Approval on Issues

While the balance of opinion about Obama’s overall job performance remains positive (54% approve, 34% disapprove), opinion of how the president is handling most specific issues tested is significantly more negative.

On balance, the public approves of Obama’s handling of foreign policy (47% approve, 32% disapprove), and holds similar opinions about Obama’s handling of the situations in Afghanistan (47% approve, 33% disapprove) and Iraq (47% approve, 38% disapprove). More also approve than disapprove of his performance on energy policy (46% vs. 31%).

However, majorities of the public disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy (53%) and the budget deficit (53%), while opinion is split on Obama’s handling of health care (42% approve, 43% disapprove) and tax policy (39% approve, 42% disapprove).

Bipartisan Declines in Approval on Issues

The drops in Obama’s ratings for specific issues are greater than his overall rating decline in large part because they cross party lines. Since April, Obama’s approval on most of the issues tested has declined more among fellow Democrats than among Republicans.

Just less than four-in-ten Americans (38%) now say they approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, down from 52% in June and 60% in April. In total, this rating has dropped 22 points from April to July.

Democrats started at a very high approval rate for Obama’s handling of the economy – 86% in April – but that rating has dropped 24 points to 62%. Republicans and independents started off at lower approval levels, but both show sizeable declines. In April, 30% of Republicans approved of the president’s approach to the economy; that is now down to 13%. Among independents, 56% approved of Obama’s handling of the economy in April. That has dropped to 33%.

Approval ratings for Obama’s handling of the federal budget deficit show a similar pattern. His performance rating on this issue dropped 18 points since April, going from 50% to 32%. Among Democrats, the decline was from 77% in April to 53% in July, a drop of 24 points. In April, 45% of independents approved of Obama’s handling of the deficit; now just 27% approve. Meanwhile, Republicans started off with a low rate of approval – 19% in April – and dropped lower – to 8% in July, a decline of 11 points.

Ratings for Foreign Policy Issues

Approval for Obama’s handling of foreign policy has slipped from 61% in April to 47% – a decline of 14 points. Among independents, the drop is 20 points – 63% to 43%. Among Democrats, the drop is 17 points – from 83% to 66%. Among Republicans, 27% approve.

On two specific foreign policy issues – Obama’s handling of Iraq and Afghanistan – public approval stands at 47% on each. There is no direct comparison with the April survey. About six-in-ten (62%) Democrats approve of Obama’s handling of Iraq, compared with 38% each of Republicans and independents. A comparable share of Democrats (59%) approves of Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan, compared with 46% of independents and 40% of Republicans.

On Obama’s handling of health care, approval declined 9 points from 51% in April to 42% in July. Among independents, approval on health care is down from 50% in April to 38%, a drop of 12 points. Among Republicans, 21% approved of his handling of the issue in April. Now that is down to 12%. About two-thirds of Democrats (65%) approve of his handling of health care.

Approval for Obama’s handling of tax policy also is down since April, from 50% to 39%. Among Democrats, that rating is down 12 points, dropping from 77% to 65%. Among independents, 31% approve of his handling of tax policy, down from 45% in April. And among Republicans, approval on this issue dropped from 22% to 13% since April.

On energy policy, 46% say they approve of how Obama is handling the issue. That includes 64% of Democrats, 45% of independents and 23% of Republicans.

Public Overwhelmingly Likes Obama Personally

Although Barack Obama’s job approval ratings have declined over the past month, most Americans say they like “the kind of person he is and the way he leads his life.” Nearly three-quarters (74%) personally like Obama, while just 12% say they dislike him.

Obama is particularly well-liked by African Americans, nearly all (98%) of whom say they like his personality and the way he leads his life. Obama’s personal appeal extends to most Democrats (92%) and independents (71%) and a smaller majority (55%) of Republicans. Among moderate and liberal Republicans, more than three-quarters (78%) personally like the president; conservative Republicans are the only group with fewer than half (43%) who say they like Obama personally.

Those who say they personally like Obama cite a variety of reasons. Two-in ten (20%) mention honesty, integrity or forthrightness. About as many (16%) volunteer Obama’s relationship with his family and 13% say they see Obama as “down-to-earth.” Mentions of Obama’s intellect, communication skills and the notion that he is “trying” were each offered by 10% of those making favorable assessments of Obama personally.

Public Remains Optimistic About Obama

Despite the drop in Obama’s overall public approval rating, and, more specifically, approval for his handling of the economy, more than six-in-ten (63%) say they are optimistic that his policies will improve economic conditions in the country. That’s about the same as the 65% that said they were optimistic about his economic policies in June and the 66% that said the same in April.

Among partisans, only about a third of Republicans (32%) say they are optimistic that Obama’s policies will improve economic conditions, down from 43% in June. The share saying they are pessimistic rose from 51% to 60%. Among Democrats and independents there has been no significant change. More than eight-in-ten (84%) Democrats say they are optimistic that Obama’s policies will improve economic conditions. Last month, 85% said the same thing. Among independents, 64% say they are optimistic, compared with 63% in June.

A majority of the public (54%) also says they are optimistic that Obama’s policies will reduce the federal budget deficit over the long term. That share is unchanged from June (55%) and April (54%).

Among Democrats, 79% say they are optimistic that Obama’s policies will reduce the budget deficit over the long term; 78% said the same last month. Among independents, 52% say they are optimistic the president’s policies will bring down the deficit, the same share as in June. Nearly seven-in-ten (68%) Republicans say they are pessimistic that Obama will reduce the deficit over the long term.

Limited Effect on Economy So Far

About half (49%) of the public continues to say that Obama’s policies so far have not made economic conditions better or worse. The share saying his policies have had no effect so far – including those who said it was too soon to tell – stood at 53% in June.

But the proportion that says that Obama’s policies have made the economy worse is inching up – from 16% in June to 21% in July. That change comes mostly among independents: 16% said Obama’s policies were making the economy worse in June, while 27% say that now. The overall share that says Obama’s policies have made economic conditions better remains at about a quarter (24%). It had been 26% in June and in mid-April.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are most likely to say that Obama’s policies are making the economy worse (35%). Only 5% of Democrats agree. About four-in-ten Democrats (42%) say Obama’s policies have made economic conditions better, while 44% say there has been no effect so far. Among independents, 21% say the policies have made economic conditions better, while 45% say there has been no effect so far. More than half (54%) of Republicans say administration policies have had no effect so far.

Doing Too Much?

With Obama pushing forward on a wide range of initiatives, the number of Americans that says he is trying to address too many issues at once has increased since the spring. Four-in-ten (41%) say he is trying to do too much; 34% said the same in mid-April. Still, a plurality (48%) says he is doing about right, though that share declined from 56% in April. Small shares in each survey (4% in April, 3% in July) say he is focusing on too few issues.

The share saying Obama is trying to do too much is up across partisan lines. Two-thirds of Republicans (66%) say he trying to address too many issues at once, an increase from 56% in mid-April. Just over two-in-ten (22%) say he is doing about right, down from 30% this spring.

About four-in-ten independents (41%) say Obama is trying to do too much; 46% say he is doing about right, a modest decline from the 54% that said the same in April. Most Democrats (69%) say he is tackling about the right amount, while 25% say he is addressing too many issues. In April, 83% of Democrats said he was doing about right, while 15% said he was trying to address too many issues at once.

A plurality of the public says that Obama is listening more to liberals in his party than Democratic moderates (41% vs. 31%). Last month, 39% said he was listening more to his party’s liberals, while 35% said he was listening more to its moderates.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to say that Obama is listening to liberals in his party more than to party moderates (69% vs. 28%). In June, 59% of Republicans and 27% of Democrats said Obama was listening more to liberals in his party. Four-in-ten Democrats (41%) now say he is listening more to party moderates. Just 17% of Republicans agree, down from 25% in June. Among independents, 41% say Obama is listening more to his party’s liberals, while 32% say he is listening to party moderates. That’s about the same as in June.

Sotomayor Maintains Broad Backing

The Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings in July for Sonia Sotomayor do not appear to have changed many minds about President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Half of the public says Sotomayor, a veteran appeals court judge of Puerto Rican descent, should be confirmed by the Senate. That matches the share that said she should be confirmed just before the hearings.

About a quarter (23%) say she should not be confirmed, roughly the same as the 25% that said she should not be confirmed in June. Another quarter (27%) say they do not know or refused to answer.

With the panel’s 13-6 vote on the nomination on July 28, Sotomayor appears headed for confirmation by the full Senate. Her public support is comparable to support for Chief Justice John G. Roberts just before he was confirmed in September 2005. At that time, 46% said Roberts should be confirmed, while 21% said he should not. Sotomayor has more support than Samuel Alito did shortly before he was confirmed in January 2006. At that point, 33% said Alito should be confirmed, while 19% opposed his confirmation. Close to half (48%) expressed no opinion on Alito.

Not surprisingly, Sotomayor’s support is strongest among Democrats, with 70% saying she should be confirmed and 6% saying she should not be. Among independents, 45% say she should be confirmed, while 26% oppose her confirmation. A plurality of Republicans (44%) say Sotomayor should not be confirmed, while 35% say she should be.