Obama Rated Highest as Person, Lowest on Deficit, Spending

by Frank Newport

Obama doing better than Bush and Clinton at similar points in their first year in office

PRINCETON, NJ -- While 67% of Americans view President Barack Obama favorably, his overall job approval rating and his ratings on specific areas are less positive. At the low end of the spectrum, only 45% of Americans approve of Obama's handling of federal spending, and 46% of his handling of the federal budget deficit.


These conclusions are based on data collected in a May 29-31 USA Today/Gallup poll.

Obama's favorable and unfavorable ratings have trended upward since December 2006, when Gallup first measured opinion of him, as the percentage of Americans saying they have no opinion of Obama has steadily dropped. At all times during the last two and a half years, however, Obama's favorable ratings have exceeded his unfavorable ratings by a significant amount. His highest favorable rating to date came in a Jan. 9-11, 2009, poll -- shortly before his inauguration -- when 78% of Americans said they had a favorable opinion, with only 18% unfavorable. Since then, Obama's favorable rating has dropped, but his positive still outweighs his negative rating by better than a 2-to-1 ratio.


Obama's favorable rating is now slightly higher than that of his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, at the same point in his first year. Bush had a 65% favorable rating in April 2001 and a 62% favorable rating in June of that year. By June of Bill Clinton's first year in office (1993), his favorable rating had fallen to 48%.


As noted, Americans are more positive in their opinions of Obama as a person than they are when asked to rate his job performance, as well as how he has handled a series of specific issues or policy areas. Because there are different levels of "don't knows" in response to the list, the accompanying table displays an approval-to-disapproval ratio for each dimension.


Obama's highest issue-specific approval-to-disapproval ratios come in terms of international issues, including overall foreign policy, terrorism, the Middle East, and North Korea. Obama's ratio for his handling of the economy is lower. He receives his lowest ratings -- with an approval-to-disapproval ratio below 1.0 -- for his handling of the federal budget deficit and controlling federal spending.

Job Performance Over Time

Obama's job approval rating for his handling of the economy has dropped from 59% in February to 55% today, while his disapproval rating has risen by 12 points, from 30% to 42%. The fact that Obama's approval on the economy has become more negative over this time period is of interest, given that Gallup's measure of consumer mood has become more positive between March and the current time.


Both Obama's approval and his disapproval ratings for his handling of foreign affairs have risen since February, as the percentage of Americans who have no opinion on this dimension has dropped by 16 points. On a ratio basis (that is, the percentage who approve divided by the percentage who disapprove), Obama's foreign affairs rating is more negative now than it was in February. (It should be noted that the current poll was conducted before Obama's journey to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, and France, and therefore does not reflect any impact of the extraordinarily high level of news coverage accorded to that trip.)


Gallup has measured Obama's handling of the federal budget deficit only twice -- once in March and again in the current survey -- and his ratings have become slightly more negative over that time. The percentage of Americans approving has dropped by three points, while the percentage disapproving has increased by four points.



This latest Gallup Poll shows that the U.S. public has significantly differentiated views on various dimensions relating to Obama. Americans are most positive when asked about their basic opinions of Obama as a person. They also are positive when asked to assess his overall job performance, and on aspects of his performance relating to foreign and international issues. Americans have become increasingly less positive about Obama's handling of the economy in recent months, and are most negative when asked to say whether they approve of his handling of the federal deficit and federal spending.

The good news for Obama is that the public continues to be quite positive when asked to rate him as a person and to rate his overall job performance -- both of which are presumably summaries of Americans' views of their president across all of the ways in which he could be evaluated. Obama's favorable rating is higher than were those of Bush or Clinton at this point in the first months of their presidencies, and his approval rating is also higher than those for Bush, Clinton, or Bush the elder in May of their first year in office.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,015 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 29-31, 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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