In First 100 Days, Obama Meets or Exceeds Expectations

by Lydia Saad

Praise for Obama on the economy, foreign policy; criticism on budgetary matters

PRINCETON, NJ -- President Obama begins the second 100 days of his presidency with 56% of Americans believing he has done an excellent or good job thus far, and only 20% saying he has done a poor or terrible job. According to the new USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted April 20-21, about a quarter of Americans are on the fence, saying his performance has been "just okay."


Those who rate Obama positively have slightly tempered views of him, with more saying his performance has been "good" rather than "excellent," 33% vs. 23%, respectively. However, those who are critical of Obama are as likely to use the harshest term -- "terrible" -- as they are to say his performance has been merely "poor," 11% vs. 9%.

Democrats are highly laudatory of Obama, with 88% rating him excellent or good. Republicans offer more measured criticism -- only 40% say he has done a poor or terrible job, while 35% say he has done "just okay."


These summary evaluations of Obama's presidency provide a more detailed picture of public reaction to the new president than Gallup's standard job approval rating. Gallup Poll Daily tracking from April 20-22 finds 65% of Americans saying they "approve" of the job Obama is doing as president; 29% disapprove. Thus, on both measures, Americans' general assessment is quite positive, by a better than 2-to-1 margin.

The new poll also finds that Americans generally got what they expected in the Obama presidency. More than 6 in 10 -- 62% -- say Obama has thus far done about as they expected as president, overall. Among the rest, more indicate he has exceeded their expectations than fallen short, 24% vs. 13%.

This evaluation of Obama is more favorable than a similar reading on former President Bill Clinton after his first 100 days in office, in April 1993. While a larger majority in that poll said Clinton had done about as they expected as president than say this for Obama, only 12% said he had done a better job (compared with Obama's 24%).


The majority of all three major partisan groups say Obama has done about as they expected as president. A third of Democrats, however, say he has done a better job, with very few (only 7%) saying he has done worse. Republicans are almost evenly divided as to whether he has done a better job (19%) or a worse job (17%).

Economy and U.S. World Image Repair Lead Obama's Achievement List

Americans in the new poll were also asked to say, in open-ended format, what they think is the best thing Obama has done as president. A summary of these responses is provided in the accompanying table, and detailed responses are shown at the end of this report.


About one in three Americans (including roughly half of Republicans) cannot name anything they think Obama has done well; but among those who can, aspects of Obama's economic policies lead the list, mentioned by 27%. About half of these respondents identify Obama's work on the economic stimulus package or bailout plans as the best thing he has done. The other half mention a different economic issue, such as "improving the economy," "creating jobs," or making changes to tax policy.

Foreign policy and relations with leaders of other countries ranks a close second, mentioned by 21%. This includes 14% of Americans who specifically say Obama has improved the United States' image abroad or its relations with other countries. It also includes smaller individual percentages citing the president's efforts to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, his success in dealing with the Somali pirates, his closing of Guantanamo Bay prison, and his steps to improve relations with Cuba.

Smaller percentages cite aspects of Obama's leadership style or his efforts to reform the way government works as his top achievement to date. An additional 8% name something else.

Critics Cite Spending First, Foreign Affairs Second

The worst thing Obama has done as president, according to the American public, is spend too much taxpayer money on bailouts, the budget, and the economic stimulus package. A combined 28% of Americans name one of these issues, including 14% specifically mentioning bailouts, the largest single response for this question. (Thirty-nine percent of Americans cannot name anything in response to the question asking about the worst thing Obama has done.)

The second-most-often-mentioned family of responses involves Obama's approach to dealing with America's national security. A combined 11% of Americans name either his relations with U.S. enemies, his closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, or the release of classified information. (See table at end for detailed responses.)


Bottom Line

Two new USA Today/Gallup measures of how Americans perceive President Obama confirm what his job approval ratings have been showing -- that he is well regarded and somewhat better reviewed at this early stage than the last Democrat to hold the office of president, Bill Clinton. Given five options for rating the kind of job Obama has done thus far, 56% say he has done an excellent or good job, and 79% say his performance has been at least "okay." Just 20% call it poor or terrible.

The issues Obama gets the most credit and criticism on are the same: federal spending on the economic stimulus and bailout package, and his approach to dealing with national security threats, including leaders of unfriendly countries and the Guantanamo Bay prison.

In the eyes of Americans, Obama's top achievement to date involves the U.S. economy -- whether the economic stimulus plan and industry bailouts, specifically, or improvement to the economy, generally. Restoring the United States' image abroad ranks a close second.

Although relatively few Americans give Obama a negative job evaluation, the issue he gets the most criticism on is government spending, with the economic stimulus plan, auto and financial industry bailouts, and the federal budget all contributing to the view that he is being too profligate. The perception that Obama is too loose in his handling of national security issues (including foreign enemies and Guantanamo Bay) ranks second.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,051 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 20-21, 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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