Americans Hopeful Obama Can Accomplish Most Key Goals

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Most hopeful about gains for minorities and the poor, U.S. respect abroad

PRINCETON, NJ -- When asked whether the Obama administration would be able to accomplish each of 16 possible goals for its time in office, Americans are most likely to predict that it will improve conditions for minorities and the poor, and improve respect for the United States abroad, and are least likely to think the new government can avoid raising their taxes and control illegal immigration.


These results are based on a Nov. 7-9 USA Today/Gallup poll, which included a version of a question about incoming administrations after presidential elections. The question asks whether the new administration will or will not be able to accomplish a list of common presidential goals, though the specific goals asked for each president-elect have varied over the years.

In general, Americans are quite optimistic in the Obama administration's potential to achieve most of the goals tested in this year's survey. A majority believe the new administration will be able to accomplish 13 of the 16 goals. The three goals Americans express doubts about the Obama administration's ability to deliver on are controlling illegal immigration, reducing the federal budget deficit, and avoiding a tax increase.

Since he was elected last week, Barack Obama has made clear that improving the economy is his top priority when he takes office next January. And Americans are optimistic those efforts will pay off -- 64% believe his administration will be able to create a strong economic recovery, and 67% believe it will be able to reduce unemployment.

While John McCain was generally regarded as better able to handle international matters than Obama throughout the campaign, Americans generally agree that the Obama administration will also fare well in this area. In addition to the 76% who say the new administration will increase respect for the United States abroad, 62% believe it will be able to keep the country safe from terrorism, and majorities believe it will be able to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq (66%) and Afghanistan (58%) in ways that are "not harmful to the United States."

Comparison to Prior Presidents-Elect

The optimism Americans express about the Obama administration is not unusual compared to what Gallup has found for other incoming presidents. Gallup asked a similar question in November 1980 for the Ronald Reagan administration, in November and December 1988 for the George H.W. Bush administration, in November 1992 for the Bill Clinton administration, and in January 2001 for the George W. Bush administration. Typically, Americans are more likely to say the incoming president will be able to accomplish most of the items rated than to say he will not. And, for the most part, Obama scores well where other presidents-elect have scored well, and poorly where others have rated poorly.

For example, Americans have always believed the new president would make the economy better (when it was struggling) or keep it good when it was doing well.


And when a president took office during difficult economic times, the public has generally been confident that he would be able to reduce unemployment.


On two of Obama's lowest-scoring items -- reducing the budget deficit and avoiding raising Americans' taxes -- other incoming presidents faced similar public doubts. (This is the first time Gallup has asked about a president's ability to control illegal immigration, so it is not clear whether other presidents would also have scored poorly on that item.)



But Obama does significantly exceed the expectations for his predecessors on improving conditions for minorities and the poor, and increasing respect for the United States abroad.



He also fares much better than George W. Bush did in expectations that he will be able to heal political divisions in this country.



Americans apparently have high hopes for the Obama administration, believing Obama will be able to accomplish most of a list of 16 goals presidents often hope to achieve. But the expectations for Obama are not universally greater or lower than what they were for prior incoming presidents. Americans generally have faith in new presidents to re-establish or maintain economic growth, and to reduce unemployment when it is high, as they do for Obama. And though the public is skeptical in Obama's ability to avoid raising taxes and to reduce the federal budget deficit, the public was also skeptical about prior presidents-elect in this regard.

Where Obama may stand apart from his predecessors is in the public's optimism that he can improve conditions for minorities and the poor, increase respect for the United States abroad, and heal political divisions in the country.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 7-9, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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