Even as global leaders continue to warn that the economic climate is likely to worsen, nearly half of Americans are optimistic that the economy will soon begin to improve. According to a new NEWSWEEK Poll, 47 percent said they expect economic conditions to improve over the next year, up from 37 percent the last time the question was asked in March. The number of people who think things will get worse has fallen to 22 percent, compared with 29 percent the month prior.
After the first two months of Barack Obama's presidency, the NEWSWEEK Poll shows that he still enjoys high approval ratings that have risen since he took office, although a growing number of Americans express skepticism in his current approach to strengthening the economy. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed approve of the job the president is doing, which is a couple pf points higher than President George W. Bush's approval at the same point in his presidency. When it comes to specific issues, public opinion of Obama's policies is substantially lower than his overall approval. Ronald Reagan experienced the same state of poll numbers at the beginning of his presidency in the 1980s, when more Americans supported Reagan more broadly than they did on specific issues. Of those surveyed, 48 percent approve of Obama's handling on tax issues (37 percent disapprove) and 47 percent support his response to the mortgage crisis (41 percent oppose).
One of Obama's lowest approval numbers comes in response to his federal budget, which includes a substantial deficit. Only 42 percent agree with Obama's budget while 45 percent disapprove. One explanation might be in Americans' thinking skeptically about individual issues. "In this economic climate, it's hard to imagine anyone giving the president a high positive approval on anything he's doing," says Larry Hugick, chairman of Princeton Survey Research Associates, the firm that completed the survey.
In the minds of those surveyed, there's little distinction between the bank bailouts of the past six months and the aid packages for the auto industry that were granted earlier this year. Only 34 percent of people think the administration is taking the right approach to help an ailing auto industry. A higher number (43 percent) objects to Detroit bailouts as an appropriate use of government money.
Not surprisingly, approval for the federal aid falls largely along partisan lines; Republicans and independents tend to disapprove while about half of Democrats support the bailout packages for automakers and financial companies. But education on the issues plays an interesting part in how one crafts an opinion. Almost half of those surveyed with a high-school education or lower think the government shouldn't use tax dollars to help ailing companies, while a lower number (38-39 percent) among college graduates oppose as adamantly.
As Republicans on Capitol Hill try to show the electorate what they consider more fiscally responsible solutions than what the Democrats have offered, the poll shows that the GOP still remains, in the minds of respondents, a party of unoriginal ideas. Six in 10 of those surveyed are skeptical that Republicans who oppose Obama's plans for the economy have better solutions for the same problems.
Obama's highest marks come from his handling of the military situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fifty-seven percent support the administration's action on Iraq over the past two months. The issue that defies political norms of partisan support is the administration's policy on Afghanistan. More Republicans than Democrats approve of Obama's approach to the conflict, which suggests residual backing of a policy developed under President Bush. Even though support for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has decreased since the beginning of the operations in 2003, 68 percent of Republicans approve of Obama's plan to increase troop levels in the region, compared with 58 percent of Democrats. Just over a quarter of all surveyed think the president's timetable to withdraw a majority of troops from Iraq next year should be done sooner, while 19 percent think it should take more time.
Despite the optimism about the economy improving, Americans are still largely dissatisfied with the direction of the country. Sixty-nine percent are not happy with the way things are going; only 22 percent are satisfied. The last time that the number of Americans happy with the direction of the country broke the 30-percent mark was in January 2007, according to the NEWSWEEK Poll.
Media coverage of Obama's European trip has noted Michelle Obama's star power, and Americans give her high marks. Sixty-two percent said they have a favorable opinion of the first lady, while 10 percent have an unfavorable view.