Presidential Approval Slips Below 50% As Ratings of Obama’s Handling of Various Issues Fall Across the Board

Democratic Party Declines in Favorability As Republican Party Recoups

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Washington, DC – For the first time since taking office, President Obama’s approval ratings have fallen below 50%, as Americans are now as likely to say that they disapprove of the job he is doing as they are to approve (49%, respectively), according to a new telephone poll of over 1,000 adults conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs. This marks a 4-point decline in approval and a parallel 6-point increase in disapproval since early November.

Obama’s favorability decline crosses party lines: Fewer Democrats (77%, down 5 points), Independents (41%, down 4 points) and Republicans (16%, down 5 points) approve of the way he is handling his job as President.

While Obama continues drawing favorable ratings from majorities or pluralities of African-Americans, Hispanics, women, young adults, and college graduates, there have been noticeable declines among some of these groups in the past month:

  • Adults under 35 (54% approving, down 9 points)
  • College graduates (47%, down 7 points)
  • Women (50%, down 5 points)

When asked to rate Obama’s performance on a number of issues using a grading scale, the only issue in which a majority would give him top marks is diplomacy (54% award him an A or a B). Other perceived presidential strengths include education (49% A/ B), terrorism (43%), and energy independence (41%).

While nearly as many say President Obama has earned top marks when it comes to health care (40% give him an A or a B), slightly more give him poor grades (42% give him a D of an F) on this issue.

Obama fares even worse on other issues:

  • The war in Iraq (38% A/B vs. 34% D/F)
  • The war in Afghanistan (37% vs. 38%)
  • The economy and jobs (36% vs. 45%)

Additionally, Obama’s “grades” have declined in all subjects since he took office. In the past four months alone, there have been significant drops in the proportion of adults awarding him top marks, particularly when it comes to jobs and the economy (down 11 points), the war in Iraq (down 11 points), and the war in Afghanistan (down 8 points).

These drops are even steeper when looking back to the start of his presidency. Back in early February, majorities awarded Obama top marks on each of these issues, with the one exception of the war in Afghanistan (47% gave him an A or a B). Since then, there have been several noteworthy declines, including some among his strong suits: the economy and jobs (down 17 points), energy independence (down 15 points), health care (down 13 points), the war in Iraq (down 13 points), and education (down 12 points).

Decline in Favorability toward the Democratic Party; Republican Party Gaining Credibility on Many Issues

Though a majority of adults (51%) hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party, nearly as many (46%) have an unfavorable view of it. The Democratic Party’s favorability rating has noticeably declined by 10 points in 13 months; in November 2008, just after Obama was elected, 61% viewed the Democratic Party favorably.

Conversely, an increasing proportion of Americans are having a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. While a majority still say that they view the GOP unfavorably (54%), there has been an 8-point increase in its favorability since Obama’s election (now 44% favorable, up from 36% in November 2008).

This general trend also manifests itself in various areas. While Americans are more likely to think that the Democratic Party would do a better job than the Republican Party handling a number of issues, the Republicans show improvements on every issue compared with one year ago.

Democrats are seen as being able to do a better job than are Republicans when it comes to protecting the environment (52% vs. 27%), improving the educational system (45% vs. 30%), making America more respected in the world (43% vs. 35%), making wise decisions about what to do in Iraq (39% vs. 34%), and reforming the U.S. health care system (40% vs. 36%).

The two parties are virtually tied when it comes to making wise decisions about foreign policy (40% think Democrats would do a better job vs. 39% who think Republicans would do a better job), dealing with the economy (40% vs. 39%), dealing with taxes (39% vs. 41%), improving morality in this country (37% vs. 36%), making America more competitive in the world economy (40% vs. 37%), and generating economic growth (38% vs. 41%).

However, Republicans tend to lead with regard to dealing with the terrorist threat at home (42% Republicans vs. 35% Democrats) and reducing the federal budget deficit (41% vs. 34%).

Republicans made gains over the past year as being the preferred party to handle a number of issues:

  • Reducing the federal budget deficit (up 15 points)
  • Generating economic growth (up 13 points)
  • Reforming the US health care system (up 13 points)
  • Dealing with the economy (up 12 points)

Americans Remain Cynical about the Direction of the Country and the Economic Outlook

Six in ten Americans (60%) feel that things in the U.S. are off on the wrong track, marking a new high since Obama took office. Just over a third (36%) feel that things are heading in the right direction while 4% are unsure. In contrast, just six months ago, a majority (52%) said that the U.S. was heading in the right direction. The proportion of optimists is down 16 points since then.

Americans also continue to feel increasingly negative about the economic outlook. Though a majority (54%) feel that the economy has stabilized but not yet begun to improve, over a third (35%) fear that the worst is still yet to come (up from 32% at the beginning of November). Just 8% feel that we have already turned the corner on the economic crisis.

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted December 3 – 6, 2009. For the survey, a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 1,120 adults aged 18 and older across the United States was interviewed by Ipsos. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult population in the U.S. been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to U.S. Census figures. Respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.

For more information on this news release, please contact:
Clifford Young
Senior Vice President
Ipsos Public Affairs

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Presidential Approval Slips Below 50% As Ratings of Obama’s Handling of Various Issues Fall Across the Board


Clifford Young
President, US
Ipsos Public Affairs