February 12, 2010

Midterm Election Challenges for Both Parties

Section 1: Opinions of Obama

Barack Obama’s job approval rating holds steady at 49% in the latest survey, with 39% saying they disapprove of the way he is handling his job as president. Obama’s approval ratings have been mostly unchanged over the last six months, though there have been some significant shifts in opinion among independents.

Ratings of Obama’s job performance among Democrats and Republicans are on par with his ratings over the last several months. About eight-in-ten Democrats (79%) now approve of the job Obama is doing, while just 17% of Republicans view Obama’s job performance positively. Currently, 46% of independents approve of Obama’s performance, up slightly from 39% last month.

Views of Obama’s Economic Policies

Americans are divided over whether Obama’s economic policies have made economic conditions better (24%) or worse (27%). As has been the case over the past year, a plurality (45%) say his policies have not had an effect so far or that it is too soon to tell. The share saying Obama’s policies have made things worse has grown slowly over the course of his presidency, from 15% in March of last year to 27% today. There has been a small decline in the proportion saying Obama’s policies have made conditions better; today, 24% say this, down from 30% in December.

Views about the effect of Obama’s policies differ considerably by party. Just 8% of Republicans say Barack Obama’s policies have made economic conditions better (53% say they have made conditions worse, while 36% say they have not yet had an effect or that it is too soon to tell). By comparison, 38% of Democrats say Obama’s policies have made economic conditions better (just 9% say they have made conditions worse, while 48% say they have not yet had an effect or that it is too soon to tell). Independents’ views largely mirror those of the overall public.

Is Obama Doing Enough to Improve the Economy?

The public also is divided over whether Obama is doing all he can to improve economic conditions. Half (50%) now say that Barack Obama could be doing more to improve economic conditions, while 43% say he is doing as much as he can.

In March 2009, the public’s views of Obama’s efforts on the economy were more positive; a majority (60%) said Obama was doing as much as he could. Nevertheless, assessments of Obama’s efforts remain relatively positive when compared to those of his predecessors. Although they are slightly less positive than views of George W. Bush’s efforts in January 2002, they are more positive than ratings of George W. Bush throughout the remainder of his first term and of George H.W. Bush in early 1992.

As was the case last year, there is a substantial partisan split on this question. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65%) say Obama is doing all he can, compared with 38% of independents and 22% of Republicans.

Obama’s Proposed Spending

There has been little change over the past year in opinions about Obama’s proposed spending to address the economic situation: 35% say Obama has proposed spending too much money, 33% say his spending is about right while 20% say he has proposed spending too little.

Nearly six-in-ten (58%) Republicans say Obama has proposed too much spending, down from the 70% who said this in March of last year. The plurality of Democrats (46%) say Obama has proposed the right amount of spending, which also is little changed from last year. However, the percentage of Democrats saying that Obama has not proposed enough spending has increased since March 2009 (28% today, up from 16%). As with the public overall, independents’ opinions are divided, and have shifted little since last year.

Obama’s Agenda

About half of the public (47%) now says that there are too many issues on Barack Obama’s agenda; 37% say he is focusing on about the right number of issues, while just 8% say he is focusing on too few issues. Over the course of the past year fewer Americans have come to think the number of issues on Obama’s plate is “about right” while there has been an increase in the percentage who say he is now addressing too many issues. Republicans are the most likely to say Obama is addressing too many issues (65%); just 31% of Democrats say the president is addressing too many issues (as do 48% of independents).

More Americans say Obama is listening to liberals i
n his party than to moderates (44% vs. 35%). There have been no substantial overall shifts in these views over the last several months. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) say Obama is primarily listening to liberal Democrats, while just 23% say he is listening to moderates in the party. Conservative Republicans are particularly likely to hold this view; 72% say Obama is listening more to liberal Democrats. By contrast, moderate and liberal Republicans are somewhat more divided on this question; 47% say Obama listens primarily to liberals, while 34% say he listens more to moderates.

The plurality of Democrats (47%), in comparison, say that Obama is listening to their party’s moderate wing; just a third (33%) say he listens more to liberals. There are no significant differences between liberal Democrats and their conservative and moderate co-partisans in these views. Independents are split on this question; 43% say Obama listens more to liberal Democrats, while 37% say he listens more to moderates.