Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Majority of Americans do not blame Obama for economic downturn

This is from The Washington Post:

The number of Americans who believe that the nation is headed in the right direction has roughly tripled since Barack Obama's election, and the public overwhelmingly blames the excesses of the financial industry, rather than the new president, for turmoil in the economy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

At this early stage in his presidency, Obama continues to benefit from a broadly held perception that others should bear the bulk of responsibility for the severe economic problems that confront his administration. Americans see plenty of offenders, but only about a quarter blame the president and his team for an economy that's in the ditch.

Despite the increasing optimism about the future, the nation's overall mood remains gloomy, and doubts are rising about some of the administration's prescriptions for the economic woes. Independents are less solidly behind Obama than they have been, fewer Americans now express confidence that his economic programs will work, barely half of the country approves of how the president is dealing with the federal budget deficit, and the political climate is once again highly polarized.

The percentage of Americans in the new poll who said the country is on the right track still stands at just 42 percent, but that is the highest percentage saying so in five years and marks a sharp turnabout from last fall, when as many as nine in 10 said the country was heading in the wrong direction. Fifty-seven percent now consider the nation as moving on the wrong track.

Overall perceptions about the country parallel a rapid increase in the percentage of Americans who say the economy is improving. For the first time since late 2004, the gap between the numbers saying the economy is getting better and those saying it's getting worse is in the single digits (27 percent to 36 percent).

Two-thirds of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling the country's top job, and six in 10 give him good marks on issue No. 1, the flagging economy. Those figures are little changed from last month. But he receives lower marks for dealing with the federal budget deficit after submitting a plan that would see continued huge deficits over the next decade. Fifty-two percent back Obama on his approach to the deficit, with the public split about evenly over whether belt-tightening or big increases in spending should be used to try to improve the economy.

There is now a pronounced divergence between Democratic and Republican perceptions of the economy, a bigger partisan divide than the one that occurred 16 years ago after Bill Clinton took office. In early 1993, people in both parties were about equally likely to see the economy as improving, but now the number of Republicans who say it is souring is more than double that of Democrats.

A sharp rise in optimism has occurred among Democrats, who are about three times as likely to approve of the country's course as they were just before Obama's inauguration. Independents, too, are more optimistic, with twice as many feeling positive as in mid-January. Among Republicans, there has not been significant movement in either direction.

Obama's overall approval rating among independents has dipped six points, to 61 percent, and fewer than half, 45 percent, said he is doing a good job of handling the deficit. His approval rating among Republicans has dropped seven points, to 30 percent.

I think what is important to understand here is that Americans are still giving President Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt with this poll. They understand that President Obama is trying to fix the complex economic problems caused by the Bush administration, the deregulation, the housing bubble, and the excessive Wall Street greed that took place over the past decade. There is certainly a division between Americans on whether the country is heading in the right or wrong direction--where 42 percent say the country is heading in the right direction, and 57 percent say the country is heading in the wrong direction. With the serious economic problems taking place within the country, Americans are certainly divided, skittish, and worried about the direction of the country. And it is the same division with American perceptions on whether the U.S. economy is improving--27 percent saying the U.S. economy is getting better, verses 36 percent saying the U.S. economy is getting worst.

For the moment, this still is not an Obama economy. President Obama has at least a year to at least stabilize the U.S. economy, or turn it around. Americans may give President Obama a pass on the economy, but there is an expiration date. If President Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership can't turn the U.S. economy around by the beginning of next year, then they will the American voters' wrath in the 2010 midterm elections. And you can bet that the Republicans are just chomping on the bit, hoping that President Obama fails.

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