October 8, 2009

Mixed Views of Economic Policies and Health Care Reform Persist

Section 1: Views of Obama and Congressional Leaders

Barack Obama’s job approval ratings have remained stable over the course of the last several months. Currently, 52% of Americans approve of the president’s job performance while 36% disapprove. Eight-in-ten (80%) Democrats approve of the way Obama is handling his job, compared with 49% of independents and just 20% of Republicans. As with his overall job rating, Obama’s approval ratings within partisan groups are largely unchanged since July.

Confidence on Issues

On balance, the public has confidence in Barack Obama to do the right thing when it comes to fixing the economy (59% a great deal or fair amount of confidence vs. 39% not too much or n
o confidence at all), the threat of terrorism (58% confidence vs. 38% little or no confidence), and dealing with Iran (51% confidence vs. 44% little or no confidence). However, Americans are split regarding confidence in Obama when it comes to health care reform (50% confidence vs. 48% little or no confidence) and the situation in Afghanistan (50% confidence vs. 45% little or no confidence).

As expected, there are wide partisan gaps in confidence in Obama’s handling of each of these issues; substantial majorities of Democrats say they have confidence in Obama, while a third or fewer Republicans say the same. Republicans are less likely to express confidence in Obama on health care reform than on the other issues tested; just 20% of Republicans have a great deal or fair amount of confidence he will do the right thing in dealing with health care reform, compared with 48% of independents and 74% of Democrats.

How Will Obama Do?

Most Americans (54%) say it is still too early to tell whether Barack Obama will be a successful or unsuccessful president in the long run, while 27% say he will be a successful president and 18% say he will be unsuccessful.

In January, shortly before Obama’s inauguration, nearly two-thirds (65%) said it was too early to tell; 30% said he would be successful and just 4% predicted he would be unsuccessful.

Republicans and independents are now more likely to say Obama will be an unsuccessful president than they were in January. Today, 37% of Republicans say he will be unsuccessful, up from 10% in January. The proportion of independents who think that Obama will be unsuccessful has risen from just 3% in January to 19% today; about as many independents say Obama will be unsuccessful as successful (21%), though most (59%) say it is too early to tell. Opinions of Democrats about Obama’s long-term prospects have shown far less change. Nearly half (45%) continue to say he will be a successful president.

Obama does comparatively better on these ratings than Bill Clinton did in the fall of his first year in office. Today, the balance of opinion on this question is positive for Obama (27% successful, 18% unsuccessful). In October 1993, the balance of opinion about Clinton was negative: 18% of the public said Clinton would be a successful president while 25% said he would be unsuccessful (56% said it was too early to tell).

Striking the Right Balance?

As many as 45% now say that Obama is trying to address too many issues at once, compared with 41% who say he is doing about right in managing the number of issues. Since April, the proportion saying Obama is doing about right has steadily declined. A small, but growing, share (9%) says he is focusing on too few issues.

Opinions about whether Obama is overextended continue to break along partisan lines. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (65%) say Obama is tackling too many issues; just 12% say he is doing about right. By comparison, 60% of Democrats say Obama is doing about right while 29% say he is tackling too much. Independents are about equally likely to say Obama is addressing too many issues (46%) as they are to say he is doing about right (41%).

Overall views of whether Obama listens more to his party’s liberals or moderates have remained fairly stable since spring. Currently, 44% say Obama listens more to liberal members of his party while 32% say he listens more to his party’s moderates.

About half of Democrats (49%) say Obama is primarily listening to moderates in their party (26% say he is listening more to liberals), up from the 41% who said Obama was listening to moderates in July. This movement is particularly pronounced among conservative and moderate Democrats; today, 53% say Obama is primarily listening to moderates, compared with 42% who said this in July.

By contrast, independents are more likely to say Obama is listening to liberal Democrats than to moderate Democrats (48% vs. 29%) and the percentage saying Obama is mostly listening to liberals has increased from 41% in July. Republicans continue to be significantly more likely to say Obama is listening to liberals than to moderates (68% vs. 15%).

Racism Not Seen as Major Factor in Obama Opposition

Most Americans say that racism either is not a factor in opposition to Obama’s policies (44%) or is a minor factor (32%); 20% think that racism is a major factor in opposition to Obama’s policies.

More than four-in-ten African Americans (43%) see racism as a major factor in opposition to Obama’s policies, compared with 16% of whites. Still, a narrow majority of blacks say that racism is either not a factor (26%) or a minor factor (25%) in opposition to Obama. Far more whites than blacks think that racism is either a non-factor (48%) or a minor factor (34%).

The partisan and ideological differences also are stark: 27% of Democrats – including 36% of liberal Democrats – say racism is a major factor in opposition to Obama’s policies. That compares with just 10% of Republicans, including 7% of conservative Republicans.

Poor Ratings for Congressional Leaders

Current job approval ratings for congressional leaders in both parties are some of the lowest seen since the Pew Research Center first asked these questions. As the job approval of Democrats has declined substantially in recent months, majorities now say they disapprove of the job leadership of both Democratic congressional leaders (53%) and their Republican counterparts (60%). Just 24% now say they approve of the job GOP leaders are doing, their worst public rating in 15 years. Democratic leaders do not fare much better; after higher ratings in the first half of 2009, their current 33% approval rating marks a return to the low levels seen in 2008.

Although approval of Democratic congressional leaders has declined across the board, the ratings slip is most pronounced among independents and members of their own party. Independents are now more than twice as likely to say they disapprove (60%) of the job Democratic leaders in Congress are doing than to say they approve (24%); in March, independent opinion of Democratic leaders was nearly evenly split. Among Democrats a smaller majority approve of the party’s congressional leaders than did so in the spring (57% today, 77% in March). There has been less shift in views of Democratic congressional leaders among Republicans, which remain overwhelmingly negative (12% approve, 76% disapprove).

The decline in approval ratings of Republican congressional leaders has been less dramatic; beginning earlier in the year, GOP ratings have declined steadily from their previously low levels. Independents are now more than three times as likely to say they disapprove (64%) than approve (20%) of the minority party’s leadership. Disapproval of GOP leaders among independents has risen 13 points since March, from 51% to 64%. Democrats continue to largely disapprove of GOP congressional leadership (15% approve, 70% disapprove), while Republicans are now about equally likely to approve as to disapprove (42% vs. 41%) of the job their party’s congressional leaders are doing.

Cite this publication: “Mixed Views of Economic Policies and Health Care Reform Persist.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 8, 2009) http://www.people-press.org/2009/10/08/mixed-views-of-economic-policies-and-health-care-reform-persist/, accessed on July 23, 2014.