Obama's Perceived Honesty, Crisis Management Key to Approval

Obama's Perceived Honesty, Crisis Management Key to Approval

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Likability less of a driver of Obama job approval

PRINCETON, NJ -- Although Americans rate President Barack Obama highest on being likable (76%) among a set of personal characteristics, those views are not strongly related to their overall approval of the job he is doing as president. Instead, two other characteristics he scores well on -- displaying good judgment in a crisis (58%) and being honest and trustworthy (55%) -- do relate highly to his overall job approval rating. Perceptions that Obama "shares your values" are the strongest predictor of approval, but his score on that dimension, 48%, is only average on a relative basis.


The results are based on an analysis of character ratings in a June 20-24 Gallup poll. Gallup asked Americans to rate the president on 12 personality dimensions. Obama's ratings range from a low of 38% for having a clear plan to solve the country's problems to a high of 76% for being likable.

Regardless of his scores on these dimensions, some are more influential in determining whether Americans approve or disapprove of the job he is doing. To assess this, Gallup ran a statistical model to see which characteristics were most strongly predictive of Obama's job approval.

Of the 12 characteristics, seven had a significant independent effect on job approval, taking into account the effect of the other characteristics on approval. The most influential, "shares your values," had an odds ratio of nearly 6.0, meaning those who believe Obama shares their values are about six times more likely than those who believe he does not to approve of the job he is doing as president. That strong relationship makes sense from the standpoint that those most likely to share Obama's values -- namely, Democrats -- are also most likely to approve of the overall job he is doing as president. So the strength of the relationship between that trait and job approval may derive from the strong relationship between party identification and job approval.

Beyond shared values, those who believe the president displays good judgment in a crisis are more than 4.5 times as likely to approve of Obama's job performance as those who believe he does not. And those who believe the president is honest and trustworthy are three times more likely to approve of Obama than those who believe he is not honest. Obama's ratings on those two dimensions are 55% or better, making them two of his strongest characteristics both in terms of Americans' ratings of him and also how influential they are in Americans' approval of the job he is doing. As such, his perceived honesty and judgment in a crisis are key strengths for the president.

Four other characteristics are also predictive of Obama's approval, but to a lesser degree. These include managing the government effectively, choosing good advisers, getting things done, and being a strong and decisive leader. Of these, he scores best on strong and decisive leadership, which 53% of Americans say describes him. His ratings on the other three characteristics in this group are between 44% and 48%, average to below-average scores for him. Thus, they can be considered potential weaknesses or challenges for him given their positive relationship to job approval and Obama's lower scores on those dimensions.

The five characteristics that do not have a meaningful effect on job approval are being likable, having a clear plan for solving the country's problems, understanding the problems Americans face in their daily lives, working well with both parties in Washington to get things done, and putting the country's interests ahead of his own political interests.

Although likability is an important basic factor in politics and elections, it is less influential in predicting how Americans evaluate Obama as president, perhaps because most believe he is likable and therefore it doesn't distinguish as well between those who approve and disapprove of the job he is doing.

On the other hand, Obama's low score on having a clear plan for solving the country's problems -- 38% say this describes him -- is not a critical weakness since Americans do not weigh it heavily in assessing his performance.

Some other less important characteristics involve notions of cooperation, bipartisanship, and looking beyond politics, things Americans see as lacking in Washington. These may be desirable characteristics but are apparently not important factors in how Americans currently evaluate the president's job performance.


Obama's job approval rating has been in the mid- to high-40% range recently, averaging 47% in June. Those who share his values, believe he displays good judgment in a crisis, and feel he is honest and trustworthy are more likely to approve of the job he's doing than those who do not.

There is a reciprocal relationship between job approval and other ratings of Obama, such as his character ratings and overall favorability. That is, if more Americans approve of the job he is doing, more will probably also perceive him in a favorable light and perceive him as possessing desirable presidential traits.

Indeed, Obama's ratings on most personal characteristics were higher during his first year in office, when he averaged 57% job approval. Since then, his approval ratings have generally held in the mid-40% to low-50% range, and his ratings on personal characteristics have been lower as well.

Also, it is important to point out that the relationships between particular characteristics and job approval ratings may not be the same from president to president, or even the same for Obama over the course of his presidency. Those relationships can change depending on the types of challenges a president is confronting at any given time, and how the prevailing issues at the time influence the type of characteristics Americans give more or less weight to when evaluating how a president is handling his job.

Explore President Obama's approval ratings in depth and compare them with those of past presidents in the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 20-24, 2013, with a random sample of 2,048 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±x percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers and cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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