Despite the tumbling economy, Barack Obama continues to enjoy a honeymoon with the American public in the face of the most trying crisis any newly inaugurated president has encountered since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The GOP, meanwhile, is viewed by a majority of Americans as the party of "no," without a plan of its own to fix the economy, and even rank-and-file Republicans are concerned about the party's direction, according to the first NEWSWEEK Poll taken since Obama assumed office.
"People give Obama credit for reaching out to Republicans, but they don't see Republicans reciprocating," says pollster Larry Hugick, whose firm conducted the survey. "A surprising number said bipartisanship is more important than getting things done."
Overall, 58 percent of Americans surveyed approve of the job Obama is doing, while 26 percent disapprove and one in six (16 percent) has no opinion. Although his approval ratings are down from levels seen a few weeks ago in other polls, 72 percent of Americans still say they have a favorable opinion of Obama—a higher rating than he received in NEWSWEEK Polls during the presidential campaign last year. The president's rating in this poll is consistent with estimates provided by other national media polls in the last week.
On the most important issue of the day, the NEWSWEEK Poll shows that close to two thirds (65 percent) of the public say they are very or somewhat confident that Obama will be successful in turning the economy around. That's down just a little from the 71 percent who felt that way before he took office. Still, overall perceptions of the economy remain solidly negative, with 84 percent saying the national economy is in poor shape and just 3 percent viewing things positively.
The public is also dubious about some of the president's programs. Majorities of Americans think too much has been spent so far to help rescue large banks in danger of failing and domestic auto companies facing bankruptcy. A somewhat surprising majority (56 percent) supports nationalizing large banks at risk of failing—a policy the Obama administration has shied away from. And fewer than half of those polled (49 percent) say they support Obama's proposal to allow the expiration of tax cuts for those with incomes above $250,000 at the end of next year. (Forty-two percent say they oppose ending these cuts.)
Even so, faith in Obama personally has apparently carried over into optimism about the future. More than a third (37 percent) of the public expect economic conditions to improve in the next 12 months, compared with 29 percent who think things will be worse. Another big plus for the president's policies is that a huge majority of Americans (73 percent) favor his plan to remove most U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year.
The biggest problem for the GOP, according to the poll, may be that 58 percent of Americans believe that Republicans who have opposed Obama's economic-rescue plans have no plan of their own for turning the economy around. With the Republicans having lost the White House and both houses of Congress, public identification with the party has dropped to a recent low point of 26 percent, after running at or near 30 percent for most of the last 15 years. That's the lowest level since the Watergate era and a striking loss of stature for the party, considering that self-described conservatives continue to outnumber liberals in the country by nearly two to one (39 percent vs. 20 percent).
Many Republicans express concern about where their party is headed and whether GOP leaders in Congress are in touch with their constituents. Asked about the direction of their party, 45 percent of rank-and-file Republicans say it is moving in the right direction, while more than a third (35 percent) think it is going in the wrong direction. This is in sharp contrast to what a NEWSWEEK Poll found in 1999 after the Clinton impeachment hearings. At that time, 65 percent of Republicans said their party was headed in the right direction.
Some of these results spring from discontent over Republican leadership; other survey respondents indicate the party is ideologically lost. More than half of Republicans today (52 percent) say they don't think GOP congressional leaders are in touch with what the average Republican thinks. While four in 10 Republicans (39 percent) think the GOP is about right in terms of ideology, another 38 percent believe it is not conservative enough, and only 20 percent think it is too conservative.
Apart from Obama himself, however, the Democratic Party can hardly crow about these results. The public's general disdain for Congress—including the Democratic leadership—hasn't changed much since the Democrats took over in 2006. More people have an unfavorable opinion of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi than a favorable one (41 percent vs. 35 percent). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fares little better, with 28 percent viewing him unfavorably and 23 percent with a favorable opinion. One reason for Pelosi's and Reid's low numbers is that by a large margin—51 percent to 40 percent—Americans say they value bipartisanship in Washington over getting things done quickly. And the public doesn't see Democratic congressional leaders acting in a bipartisan manner nearly as much as Obama, who is given credit for trying: 71 percent feel that the president has made a reasonable effort to work with and listen to Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The results are based on telephone interviews conducted March 4-5 with a nationally representative sample of 1,203 adults, age 18 and over. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.