August 25, 2011

Obama Leadership Image Takes a Hit, GOP Ratings Decline

Section 1: Views of Obama

Barack Obama’s public image has eroded in recent months. His overall job approval rating is now, on balance, significantly negative for the first time in his presidency, and his rating on the economy has continued to decline. Nevertheless, even as public impressions of Obama on traits related to leadership have declined significantly, Americans continue to rate the president positively on many other personal traits. And increasing numbers both blame Republican leadership for the lack of cooperation in Washington and say they would like to see Obama challenge Republican leadership.

Obama’s Ratings Slide

About half (49%) of Americans now disapprove of the job Obama is doing, while just 43% approve. This is little changed from last month (48% disapprove, 44% approve), but reflects a substantial drop from the period following the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.

Republican assessments of Obama—already negative—have continued to sour. Today, just 9% say they approve of the job Obama is doing, down from 15% last month.  Obama’s ratings among independents and Democrats are little changed since last month. Still, just 39% of independents approve of his handling of the job, while 52% disapprove. About three-quarters of Democrats (77%) continue to approve of Obama.

More Strong Disapproval of Obama

As disapproval of Obama’s job performance has grown, an intensity gap also has emerged. Americans are now significantly more likely to say they very strongly disapprove of Obama’s performance than to say they very strongly approve (38% vs. 26%). From early 2010 through March of this year, about as many strongly approved of the president’s performance as strongly disapproved.

Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73%) strongly disapprove of Obama, and this rises to 81% among conservative Republicans (compared with 54% among moderate and liberal Republicans). Far fewer Democrats (53%) strongly approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president; 60% of liberal Democrats strongly approve, as do 48% of conservative and moderate Democrats. By about two-to-one (39% to 20%), more independents strongly disapprove than strongly approve of Obama’s performance).

Most African Americans (64%) continue to strongly approve of Obama’s performance. By contrast, just 19% of whites and 26% of Hispanics strongly approve of Obama’s job performance. People younger than 30 are the only age group in which about as many strongly approve of Obama’s job performance as strongly disapprove (30% and 21%, respectively). Among older age groups far more strongly disapprove than strongly approve.

Most Continue to Approve of Obama on Terrorism

Public evaluations of Obama’s handling of the economy and the budget deficit have also grown more negative in recent months. Today, six-in-ten (60%) disapprove of his performance on each of these issues. Americans’ ratings of Obama’s handling of the threat of terrorism continue remain more positive: 56% currently approve, about the same percentage as throughout much of his presidency. Obama received a significant bump on this measure, which has since receded, the day following the announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

About three-in-ten independents approve of Obama’s handling of the economy (30%) and the budget deficit (28%). Roughly half of independents (53%) approve of Obama’s job dealing with terrorist threats.

Very few Republicans (7% each) approve of Obama’s handling of the economy or the budget deficit; more Republicans (33%) have positive views of Obama’s handling of terrorism. Among Democrats as well, Obama gets much better ratings on terrorism (82%) than for his handling of the economy (64%) or the budget deficit (58%).

Obama’s Leadership Image Slips

Americans continue to have positive personal impressions of Barack Obama along most dimensions. Majorities say he stands up for what he believes in (71%), cares about people like them (63%), and most view him as a good communicator (75%), well-informed (63%) and trustworthy (59%). Public assessments of these traits are relatively unchanged in recent months.

But evaluations of Obama’s leadership have dropped off in recent months. Today, the public is divided over whether Obama is a strong leader (49% strong leader, 47% not a strong leader), and more now say he is not able to get things done than say he is (50% not able, 44% able).

Among independents, the balance of opinion on these dimensions has shifted. Today, more say Obama is not a strong leader than say he is (51% vs. 44%); in May, that balance was reversed (52% strong leader, 41% not strong). And a majority of independents (55%) now say Obama is not able to get things done; in May, just 43% said this.

Views of Obama’s ability to get things done have also declined among Republicans (20% now say he can get things done, compared with 31% in May) and Democrats (67% today, 79% in May). And although three-quarters of Democrats (75%) continue to say Obama is a strong leader, this has dropped 10 points since May. Among Democrats, liberal Democrats continue to rate Obama more highly on these characteristics than do conservative and moderate Democrats.

Wide Partisan Gaps in Views of Obama’s Personal Traits

Across the board, Democrats express much more positive views of Obama’s traits and personal qualities than do Republicans. The partisan gap is particularly pronounced in opinions about whether Obama is trustworthy.

Nearly nine-in-ten Democrats (88%) and a majority of independents (57%) view Obama as trustworthy. That compares with just 29% of Republicans; 68% say Obama is not trustworthy. The partisan gaps in views of Obama’s personal traits are nearly as wide in opinions about whether Obama is a strong leader (51 points) cares about people like me (50 points) and able to get things done (47 points).

Nonetheless, Republicans have positive views of some of Obama’s traits. Majorities see Obama as a good communicator (60%), as someone who stands up for what he believes in (58%) and as warm and friendly (52%).

Plurality Wants Obama to Challenge GOP

A 37% plurality now contends that Obama should challenge the Republicans in Congress more often; 25% say Obama should go along with GOP leaders more frequently, while about the same percentage (26%) say he is handling the situation about right. In April, fewer (27%) said Obama should challenge GOP congressional leaders more often.

Democrats, in particular, are now more likely to say Obama should challenge Republicans in Congress more often. Today, a majority of Democrats (57%) say Obama should challenge the GOP more frequently; in April, just 39% said this.

And there is little difference among Democrats on this question. Liberal Democrats and their conservative and moderate counterparts are about equally likely to want to see Obama stand up more to Republicans (60%, 55% respectively).

Little Partisan Cooperation Seen

Fully 75% of the public says that Obama and Republican congressional leaders are not working together to address the important issues facing the country. Just 21% say the two sides are cooperating. The view that Obama and Republican leaders are not working together has grown in recent months. In February, 65% said they were not working together, 27% said they were.

The public continues to place greater blame for the lack of cooperation on Republican leaders (37%) than on Barack Obama (21%), though about one-in-ten (12%) volunteer that both are responsible.

Both Republicans and Democrats are more likely to place the blame on the opposing party’s leadership than on their own. About six-in-ten Democrats (59%) blame GOP leadership, while about half of Republicans (47%) blame Obama.

However, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to assign at least some of the blame to their own party for the lack of cooperation. Three-in-ten Republicans say Republican congressional leaders are either mostly (12%) or partially (18%) to blame; by contrast, fewer than one-in-ten Democrats say Barack Obama is either mainly (5%) or partially (3%) to blame.