President Barack Obama earns high marks for his performance even as Americans express anxiety about his domestic policies. One possible reason: Republicans aren’t offering an alternative.
A Bloomberg News poll gives Obama a job-approval rating of 56 percent and 61 percent say they feel favorably about him. Still, respondents are divided over the president’s handling of health care and the economy, while giving him a negative grade on the growth of the budget deficit.
“Americans are despairing of the federal deficit in the wake of several huge government spending programs,” says J. Ann Selzer, the president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm that conducted the poll. “Health care is one more big- ticket item and taxpayers appear to believe at some point they, or their children, will hold the bag.”
Republicans aren’t benefiting from the negative sentiment toward the economic policies, the poll shows. The survey finds that by about a 2-to-1 margin, Americans say Obama is doing a better job on the economy than his predecessor, George W. Bush.
“He’s got good ideas,” says poll respondent Donna Lawrence, a 55-year-old corrections administrator from Richmond, Virginia.
She says some of the public is too impatient and Obama has kept the economy from getting worse. “He walked into a hornets’ nest when he came into office,” and the stimulus and the bailouts of the auto and financial industries have helped, she says.
Respondents also say by 40 percent to 32 percent that they would vote for a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2010. A slight plurality, 48 percent to 44 percent, has a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, by 52 percent to 38 percent, gets an unfavorable rating.
The survey finds that even as Obama has tried in recent months to stress the urgency of overhauling health care, for almost half of Americans, the economy is the most important issue facing the country. Health care comes second, with 23 percent.
Slightly more Americans are pessimistic than optimistic about the U.S. government’s economic plan. Americans are divided over the president’s handling of the issue as well as over whether his stimulus program will create jobs. They are also about evenly divided over his handling of health care.
The Bloomberg Poll is based on interviews with 1,004 U.S. adults ages 18 or older from Sept. 10-14. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Pessimism over Obama’s handling of the budget deficit is a major factor behind the negative attitudes.
Americans consider the deficit such a problem that a majority, 62 percent, say they would be willing to risk a longer-lasting recession to avoid more government spending. Just 28 percent say they thought more spending would do the most good to help the economy.
Poll respondent Bruce Varholy, a 60-year-old builder from York, Pennsylvania who is an independent voter, is among the 52 percent of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track.
“The amount of money that is being squandered right now by the government is going to really hurt us down the road,” he says. “I just view the government as so totally corrupt I don’t even know how it functions.”
Tab for Grandchildren
Even some who support Obama say they are concerned about spending. “I don’t want to see my grandchildren and great grandchildren have to have this on their backs when they become adults,” says Lawrence, the poll respondent from Virginia.
While they express anxiety about spending, home values, retirement savings and household income, just 33 percent of respondents say they have no confidence Obama’s team will be able to fix the problems that caused the nation’s financial crisis.
More than half, 54 percent, say they are also mostly optimistic about the ability of the government to ultimately help the economy recover.
“A year ago we were really standing at the edge of the cliff,” says poll respondent Mike Dole, a 64-year-old Veterans Affairs employee in Bethesda, Maryland. “Something needed to be done very, very severely, and he did it.”
Some differences in impressions of the U.S. economic policy appear when answers are broken down by demographic groups. Fifty-eight percent of women say they are mostly optimistic about the ability of the government to help the economy recover and grow, compared with 49 percent of men.
Optimism Among Blacks
In a sign that Obama’s support from black voters during the election is carrying over to his presidency, blacks are also far more optimistic than whites, with 83 percent expressing optimism compared with 48 percent of whites.
While Americans are about equally divided over Obama’s record on health care, when it comes to foreign policy he enjoys solid approval.
Sixty percent of poll respondents approve of the job Obama is doing in managing relations with other countries, and 51 percent approve of his policies on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama’s 61 percent favorable rating is matched by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his former competitor for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, who scores 62 percent.
Both fare better than some other major political figures, including Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who gets an unfavorable rating of 48 percent, and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate, who has the highest unfavorable numbers of all, at 55 percent. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich gets 39 percent.
The poll also probes attitudes on climate change, finding that 40 percent of Americans view it as a major threat, compared with 31 percent who say it’s a minor threat and just 27 percent who say it’s no real threat at all.