Barack Obama will start his administration next week with broad and bipartisan good will from the American public and a strong base of optimism for his presidency. In a new NEWSWEEK poll, 66 percent of adults surveyed say they are optimistic that Obama can improve the direction of the country, including 36 percent of Republicans.
But Obama inherits from George W. Bush a nation that remains pessimistic about the current state of affairs. Only 20 percent of adults say they are satisfied with the direction of the country, an improvement from a historic low of 10 percent in 2000 but a figure dramatically lower than the 46 percent that were satisfied at the beginning of George W. Bush's administration.
The poll indicates a resounding call for bipartisanship. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans surveyed said their opinion of Obama has improved since Election Day and 83 percent of adults, including 69 percent of Republicans, say Republicans should find ways to work with Obama on most issues rather than challenging his policies.
As is no surprise, the economy is weighing heavily on the minds of the country Obama is set to lead. More than half, 57 percent, of adults surveyed now say they are in poor or fair financial shape. A substantial minority, 43 percent, say their personal savings are in worse shape today than they were five years ago; 53 percent say the stocks, bonds and other investments they own are down from five years ago and 35 percent say their retirement savings plans have lost value in the past five years.
But the public appears to have strong confidence in Obama's ability to address the financial crunch and other pressing issues facing him. On the economy—Obama warned this week that "things could get worse before they get better"--71 percent of adults say they are somewhat or very confident that Obama can turn things around. Similarly, on a signature Obama campaign issue, 79 percent of adults say they are somewhat or very confident Obama can improve the nation's standing with allies around the world. Meanwhile, 62 percent say they are somewhat or very confident Obama could bring troops home from Iraq without seriously destabilizing the situation there. On Afghanistan, the public displays a bit less optimism; only 48 percent of adults say they are somewhat or very confident Obama can defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban there.
There also appears to be broad support for the team that Obama is assembling to attack these problems. Despite bumps in the road for a few of Obama's nominees—including Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner, whose tax troubles were revealed this week—78 percent of adults say they approve of Obama's choices, while only 18 percent disapprove. By comparison, in 2001, only 57 percent of adults approved of the choices of President George W. Bush while 28 percent said they disapproved.
Princeton Survey Research Associates International
This poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from January 14-15, 2009. Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,200 adults, 18 or older. Results are weighted so that the sample demographics match Census Current Population Survey parameters for gender, age, education, race, region, and population density. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for results based on 1,200 adults. Results based on smaller subgroups are subject to larger margins of sampling error.
SAMPLE SIZE/MARGIN OF ERROR FOR SUBGROUPS:
347 Republicans (plus or minus 6.4)
465 Democrats (plus or minus 5.5)
337 Independents (plus or minus 6.6)
In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting surveys can also introduce error or bias to poll results.