Obama Support Still Strong

By Dan Froomkin
9:47 AM ET, 03/17/2009

The new poll getting the most attention this morning is the one from the Pew Research Center, which shows President Obama's job approval rating down to 59 percent, from 64 percent in February.

But a look beneath the surface of that poll -- and at some other recent surveys -- suggests that the public is still solidly behind Obama and his overall agenda.

The complete report from Pew finds that: "In recent weeks, Obama has come under increasing criticism for trying to tackle too many issues in his first few months in office. A majority of Americans (56%) reject that criticism, saying he is doing about right, though 35% say he is trying to address too many issues at once. Most Republicans (53%) say that Obama has taken on too many issues, as do 36% of independents. Just 21% of Democrats agree....

"There is widespread support for some of Barack Obama’s key budget proposals -- particularly those dealing with changes in the tax structure. But opinion on other key proposals is more evenly divided.

"More than eight-in-ten (82%) of the public say it is the right thing for the government to reduce taxes for middle and lower income households compared with only 14% who say it is the wrong thing. A smaller majority (61%) supports raising taxes on people with incomes of $200,000 or more. Somewhat fewer (55%) has a positive opinion of limiting tax deductions upper income people can take for charitable contributions...

"The public is divided over whether Obama has proposed spending too much money or about the right amount to address the economic situation; 39% say he has proposed spending too much, 34% say about the right amount, while 13% say he has not proposed enough spending."

Interestingly, "somewhat fewer describe Obama himself as liberal than did so during the presidential campaign. Currently, 43% identify Obama’s ideology as either moderate (26%) or conservative (17%); about the same percentage says he is a liberal (44%). Last October, a few weeks before the election, a majority of the public (52%) identified Obama as a liberal."

One significant danger sign for Obama is that 48 percent of Americans say bailing out banks and financial institutions that made poor financial decisions makes them angry -- and another 39 percent said it bothers them.

None of this is redounding well to Obama's political opponents, by the way: "In fact, approval of Republican congressional leaders has fallen from 34% in February to 28% currently, the lowest rating for GOP leaders in nearly 14 years of Pew Research surveys."

CNN's latest poll finds Obama's numbers down, but not as much as Pew. Paul Steinhauser writes for CNN: "Obama's job approval rating stands at 64 percent in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Monday. That rating is down 3 percentage points from mid-February.

"When asked about the economy, 59 percent of respondents approve of how Obama's performing, with 40 percent disapproving.

"'Most of the Americans who disapprove of Obama are Republicans,' said Keating Holland, CNN's polling director. 'His approval rating is 59 percent among independents and over 90 percent among Democrats, but two-thirds of Republicans have a negative view of his actions in office so far.'...

"'There's a lot of good will toward President Obama in this poll. Americans overwhelmingly hope he will succeed. They believe he will succeed, and they support his economic recovery program. But we're seeing growing doubt about some details,' said Bill Schneider, a CNN senior political analyst....

"A big political question is whether this recession will become Obama's. The poll suggests that the president may have some time on his hands. If the economy does not improve over the next year, 54 percent said they'll still blame former President Bush and the Republicans for the mess, with 32 percent pinning the blame on Obama and the Democrats who control Congress."

And Gallup's Frank Newport offers some context: "President Barack Obama's job approval rating, at 61% in the latest three-day average of Gallup Poll Daily tracking, is slightly above where George W. Bush's and in particular Bill Clinton's were at this point in mid-March of the first years of their administrations.

"Gallup's mid-March job approval rating for Bush, measured March 9-11, 2001, was 58%, with 29% disapproval. Gallup's March 12-14, 1993, approval rating for Clinton was 53%, with 34% disapproval. Both of these approval ratings are lower than Obama's current 61%. Bush's disapproval rating in mid-March 2001 was about the same as Obama's is now (28%), while Clinton's disapproval rating was significantly higher.

"These comparisons suggest that President Obama is holding his own compared to the two presidents who came before him, despite some decline in his approval rating since his inauguration on Jan. 20."

Looking at graphics from Pollingreport.com and 538.com, what becomes clear is that Obama's approval ratings haven't really declined that much -- it's his disapproval numbers that have gone up sharply. Call it the Limbaugh effect.

UPDATE: CBS News reports: "Despite the many economic problems facing the country now, President Obama’s job approval rating remains unchanged, at 62%, and a growing number of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction." The CBS poll actually finds that more Democrats and independents approve of Obama now than did when he took office. Fewer Republicans do, however, making it a wash.

What do you make of the polls? Share your thoughts in comments.

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