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Poll: Obama's ratings better than before, but still low

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Congressional approval slips back into the single digits.

Last month, many polls noted improving attitudes on President Obama's job performance, both before and after the State of the Union address. A new Harris Poll shows that while there has been some slippage since the post-SOTU afterglow, the President's ratings remain up from previous months both in general and regarding his performance on the Economy in particular, but are lackluster overall. Similar trends can be seen for perceptions on the direction of the country.

Looking at overall ratings for the job President Obama is doing, the President's positive ratings, currently at 38%, have slipped somewhat from the 42% recorded in the days following the SOTU but are comparable to the 39% seen just prior to the speech. Furthermore, this rating is higher than any the President saw throughout the latter half of last year.

"In less-than-breaking news, wide attitudinal gaps exist along party lines." 

Positive ratings for the President's handling of the economy tell a similar tale. Forty percent (40%) of U.S. adults give President Obama positive ratings on this aspect of his job performance, down marginally from the 42% indicating the same just after the SOTU but comparable to the 39% giving positive ratings in the days just before the address. What's more, with the exception of the post-SOTU peak, one would have to look as far back as 2009 to find higher ratings for the President's performance on the economy.

In less-than-breaking news, wide attitudinal gaps exist along party lines. Two-thirds of Democrats give the President positive ratings on both his overall job performance (66%) and his performance as relates to the economy (67%), while overwhelming majorities of Republicans give the President negative ratings on both these points (94% and 90%, respectively). As for Independents, majorities give the President negative ratings on both his general performance (66%) and his handling of the economy (63%).

On the issues

Looking more specifically at attitudes on President Obama's performance on a variety of issues, the President shows a mix of ups and downs in comparison to past ratings. Positive ratings for his handling of jobs (42%), for example, are up by 10 percentage points since last year (when 32% gave him positive ratings on this aspect of his job performance).

Positive attitudes toward his handling of terrorism, on the other hand, are down by 10 points (from 48% last year to 38% this year). At 29%, positive ratings for his handling of the unrest in the Middle East are identical to 2014 findings but are below results seen prior to that (with this measure peaking at 40% in January 2013).

Positive ratings for the President's job performance show more ups and downs on some issues than on others:

  • Four in ten (40%) rate him positively for his handling of the environment, representing an improvement over last year (35%) but falling short of the 44% peak seen in January 2013.
  • Education and immigration tell similar tales; the 39% rating President Obama positively on his handling of education reflects a small improvement over 2014 findings (36%), but a drop from the January 2013peak of 47%. Similarly, the 31% rating him favorably on his handling of immigration is up marginally from last year (when it was 29%), but is down from its May 2013 peak of 35%.
  • On healthcare and gun control, the President's positive ratings of 39% and 25%, respectively, are relatively unchanged from last year (when they were 38% and 24%) but are down vs. earlier measures. Positive ratings for his handling of healthcare peaked at 43% in January 2013, while positive attitudes toward his handling of gun control peaked at 33% in May of that same year.

Direction of the country

Much like attitudes towards the President, positive attitudes toward the state of the country itself have slipped back to pre-SOTU levels but remain higher than in the recent past. Though the majority of Americans (62%) feel things in the country have gotten off on the wrong track, the 38% saying things are going in the right direction is higher than at any point last year.

  • Over eight in ten Republicans (84%) and two-thirds of Independents (67%) say things in the country have gotten off on the wrong track, while roughly six in ten Democrats (59%) say things in the country are going in the right direction.

Though Americans' views of President Obama's handling of the economy have improved, less improvement is apparent for attitudes toward the state of the economy in general. At 28%, the percentage of Americans expecting the economy to improve in the coming year is down from last month (when it was 32%) but on par with the two months prior (27% in November and 28% in December).

Congress drops out of the double digits

After the SOTU address, positive ratings just barely broke into the double digits (at 10%) for the first time since last June; this month Congressional approval drops just enough to bring it back into the single digits, at 9%. The remaining 91% of U.S. adults give Congress negative ratings.

  • Vast majorities across the political spectrum display low opinions of Congress – and none more so than Independents, 94% of whom give Congress negative ratings (vs. 90% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats).

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