March 18, 2010

Gloomy Americans Bash Congress, Are Divided on Obama

Section 1: Obama Approval and Image

For the first time in his presidency, public evaluations of president Obama’s job performance are split nearly evenly, with 46% approving and 43% disapproving. There has been a substantial erosion of support within Obama’s political base in recent months. In January 84% of Democrats approved of his job performance – 74% say the same today, while disapproval over this period has nearly doubled from 9% to 17%. More independents disapprove (49%) than approve (37%) of the president, virtually identical to the balance of opinion in January, though independent evaluations have fluctuated in recent months. Republicans remain overwhelmingly negative, with 73% disapproving and just 17% approving of the president’s job performance.

Inside the Democratic Base

The slide in Obama’s approval rating among Democrats crosses ideological lines. Currently, 82% of liberal Democrats approve of his performance, down slightly from 90% in January and 91% last August. But the president’s approval ratings remain significantly lower among conservative and moderate Democrats – 69% of whom approve today, down from 82% as recently as January. There also remains a difference along racial lines – 88% of black Democrats approve of the president’s job performance, compared with 69% of white Democrats.

Where Obama is notably losing support is among Democrats who are struggling financially and those with lower incomes, resulting in a widening economic division within the party when it comes to evaluations of the president. Among Democrats who rate their own personal finances as only fair or poor, only 66% approve of the president’s job performance, down from 81% in August and 87% last February. By contrast, Democrats who say they are in excellent or good shape financially continue to overwhelmingly back the president – 87% approve today, virtually unchanged from last August (86%) or February (89%).

Similarly, the share of Democrats with household incomes of less than $50,000 annually who approve of the president stands at 66% today, down from 80% last August and 88% last February. Meanwhile, approval has remained relatively steady among higher income Democrats– 84% approve today, virtually unchanged from last August (86%) or February (89%).

Obama Inspiring and Decisive, Not Arrogant or Detached

While the public divides about evenly in evaluating Obama’s overall job performance, the personal reactions people have to Obama remain generally positive. Solid majorities say they think of Obama as inspiring (61%) and decisive (57%), while only about a third thinks of him as arrogant (35%) or detached (35%).

When asked if Obama makes them feel hopeful, 54% say yes and 43% say no. About half (49%) say Obama makes them feel proud, though roughly as many (47%) say he does not. Fewer than half (44%) say they feel disappointed in Obama, while 53% are not disappointed. Three-in-ten (30%) say Obama makes them feel angry.

Positive personal reactions to Obama are far less widespread today than was the case in a poll of voters conducted the week after his election in November 2008. Then, 81% found Obama inspiring, compared with 61% today. Roughly two-thirds in the post-election poll said Obama made them feel hopeful (69%) and proud (65%). Today, roughly half say each of these words applies. And right after his election, just 9% said Obama made them feel angry, compared with 30% today.

But anger with Obama is widespread only among those on the political right; 62% of conservative Republicans say Obama makes them feel angry, compared with 27% of moderate and liberal Republicans, 31% of independents and 17% of Democrats. Similarly, while most conservative Republicans see Obama as arrogant (69%) and detached (62%), fewer than half in all other political groups – including moderate and liberal Republicans – agree.

Just 20% of Democrats say they feel disappointed in Obama, while 79% do not, and there is little difference between liberals (17% disappointed) and conservatives and moderates (22%) in the party. As with other negative assessments, disappointment is widespread among conservative Republicans (76%), though roughly half of moderate and liberal Republicans (51%) and independents (52%) say they also feel disappointed in Obama.

Barack Obama’s job approval ratings on the key domestic issues of the economy and health care are holding steady, with slim majorities disapproving on both issues. But there has been improvement in the public’s evaluation of how Obama is handling the situation in Afghanistan. Currently, 51% approve, up from 45% in January and a low of 36% in November when the president was still debating what approach to take in Afghanistan. Republicans, in particular, have a vastly improved impression of Obama’s handling of this issue – currently 42% of Republicans approve of how Obama is handling Afghanistan, while the same number disapprove. In November, just 19% of Republicans offered a positive assessment while 68% were negative.