Americans Divided on Treasury Secretary Geithner

by Frank Newport

Democrats approve; Republicans disapprove

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are split essentially down the middle when asked to assess the job Tim Geithner is doing as Treasury secretary: 42% say they approve, 40% disapprove, and 18% have no opinion.


Geithner has become one of the most visible Treasury secretaries in decades. This reflects the extreme importance of government economic policy in the current recession, the expanded power given to the secretary of the Treasury in last year's economic bailout legislation, and the fact that Geithner has been one of the primary public faces on the Obama administration's extraordinary and massive intervention in the nation's economic and business life.

Some critics have assailed the way in which Geithner has handled his responsibilities, especially relative to the AIG bonus controversy, and there have been calls for his resignation. Republican Rep. Connie Mack, one of those calling for his resignation, was quoted as saying "[Geithner] has lost the confidence of the American people." Nevertheless, Obama has continued to stand publicly behind his Treasury secretary.

The new data are from a Gallup Poll conducted March 27-29. If the American public has "lost confidence" in Geithner, it might be expected that a majority would now disapprove of the job he is doing as Treasury secretary. That is not the case. At the same time, a majority does not approve of the job he is doing, either. The public remains divided, with no tilt in sentiments in either direction.

It is not a good sign for Geithner, perhaps, that he receives significantly lower approval ratings than does his boss. In the same poll in which Geithner receives 42% approval, Obama receives a 64% approval rating (and a 30% disapproval rating). This is not the first time this differential between Obama and his Treasury secretary has surfaced. A Gallup Poll conducted last week showed that Americans are much more satisfied with the way Obama has handled the crisis concerning bonuses paid to AIG executives than they are with Geithner's role in that situation.

For whatever reason, Obama's approval rating has been quite stable throughout his brief presidency, suggesting that events or the news have had little impact on the public's views of him. Geithner to this point does not appear to get the same benefit of the doubt.

Predictably, there are large partisan differences in Geithner's job approval rating.


Republicans' and Democrats' views on the Treasury secretary are virtual mirror images of each other. Sixty-three percent of the former disapprove, while 61% of the latter approve. Independents are about evenly split.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 27-29, 2009. 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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