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The Partly Cloudy Electorate

A new poll from ABC News and a focus group of newly-minted Democratic voters suggest President-elect Barack Obama will enter office with a base of supporters who are not expecting a miraculous economic recovery, approve of the decisions he has made so far and trust him to lead the nation out of its financial crisis.

Obama receives high marks on how he is handling the transition so far, according to the poll from ABC News, but only about a quarter believe he will be able to make big strides to improve the economy once he has taken office. This tempered optimism mirrors the views expressed this weekend in a focus group convened for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Overall, 44 percent in the ABC poll felt Obama would be able to do a good amount or more to right the economy, and an additional 27 percent felt he would be able to make "only some" improvements to the economic picture. Democrats made up the bulk of those who felt Obama would do the most to improve the economy, 19 percent of independents said he would do a "great deal" to make it better.

In the focus group, nearly all participants placed the economy as their top priority for Obama's administration, but most recognized that change takes time - one even singled out high expectations as the biggest obstacle to Obama's success.

The group of Northern Virginia voters, none of whom voted for John Kerry in 2004, were hopeful that Obama could change the direction of a nation led astray by George W. Bush, whom they described as a "failure," "short-sighted," and a "disappointment." His legacy, one said, was "the oops legacy," full of attempts at good works turned bad.

To lead the way back, these Virginians said they sought "wise" decision-making, "passion," "sincerity" and principled leadership, qualities they saw in Obama, but not in McCain. Nine of the 12 participants said they considered casting a ballot for the Republican, but were dissuaded. The ABC poll found 67 percent approve of the way Obama is handling the transition so far, an early indication that for many, he is living up to their expectations.

Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who moderated the group, asked participants to describe the current state of the nation in terms of a weather forecast. Responses covered a wide range of overwhelming weather, from a "blizzard" to a "hurricane" back to a "tornado." Four years from now, they're hoping for something between a drizzle and partly sunny.

For many in the group, progress on the economy will be their barometer. And how to convince them progress is being made? Few cited specific economic goals, though most expected Obama to follow through on his promise to cut taxes for the middle class and to expand the use of alternative energy. More pressing than any one policy prescription was staying focused on average people. "Fix it for us," said one. Another urged, "Don't forget what life was like when you were driving that car with a hole in it."

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  November 25, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
 
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