Politics

Obama Gets High Marks on Leadership, Empathy

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Even after slight decline, two in three say he exhibits these characteristics

PRINCETON, NJ -- Solid majorities of Americans believe U.S. President Barack Obama is a strong and decisive leader and say he understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives. The president gets slightly lower marks on two other personal characteristics -- being able to effectively manage the government and sharing Americans' values.

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These results are based on the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted July 17-19. The poll was conducted at a time when Obama's job approval ratings have fallen slightly, though his overall image remains positive. A Gallup Poll conducted earlier this month found 66% of Americans saying they have a favorable opinion of Obama. His favorables and his ratings on most personal characteristics exceed his job approval rating.

Coincident with the decline in Obama's job approval rating, each of the four personal dimensions tested in the July 17-19 poll is down from the prior readings in April, near the 100-day mark of Obama's presidency. Those April character readings were generally the most positive Gallup has found for Obama since it started measuring Americans' views of his personal qualities in March 2008.

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Even with the recent drop in the character ratings, Americans remain more likely to say Obama is a strong leader than they were during the 2008 presidential campaign. His current 59% rating for managing government also exceeds any of the measurements taken during the campaign. But his latest scores for understanding Americans' problems and sharing their values have dipped below where they were just before he was elected president.

The recent decline in Obama's character ratings are chiefly due to less positive evaluations from Republicans and, to a lesser extent, independents. The largest changes, both double-digit decreases, are seen in Republicans' views of Obama as a strong leader (down to 42% from 52% in April) and an effective government manager (down to 27% from 38% in April).

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Now, roughly 9 in 10 Democrats believe Obama possesses each of the four characteristics. While a majority of independents say Obama is a strong leader (63%), understands Americans' problems (61%), and can manage government effectively (56%), half now say he shares their values. About one in five Republicans currently believe Obama shares their values.

Bottom Line

Americans' assessment of the job Obama is doing as president has become less positive over the last several weeks. But the public still has a positive opinion of him overall (based on his favorable rating) and still views him as having strong capabilities for leadership and empathy. He is currently trying to apply those skills to win passage of landmark healthcare reform legislation against growing resistance.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 17-19, 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 ±4 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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