As Barack Obama prepares to take office, a new poll shows something that could be good news and bad news at the same time:
Even as they express deep concern about the current direction of the country, Americans are overwhelmingly optimistic about Barack Obama and are pinning their hopes for recovery from a massive economic collapse on the president-elect, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Nearly eight in 10 of those surveyed say the country is headed seriously off course. Seven in 10 worry about their family’s finances, and 94 percent say the country’s economy is in “not so good” or “poor” shape, the most negative assessment in more than 23 years of Post-ABC polling.
Obama will take office Tuesday as the most popular incoming president in a generation. He also will enter the White House with a broad mandate to act that was missing when George W. Bush was elected by the narrowest of margins in 2000.
More than half of all Americans have high hopes for his presidency, almost three-quarters of the public say Obama’s proposals will improve the struggling economy, and about eight in 10 have a favorable view of him — more than twice the percentage now holding positive views of Bush. About seven in 10 say Obama understands their problems, and a similar proportion say his victory gives him “a mandate to work for major new social and economic programs.”
And, to the extent, that there are any disagreements about how to proceed coming from the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the public is clear on who they would support:
The optimism surrounding the country’s 44th president contrasts sharply with the cynicism and doubt Americans continue to express about Congress and the outgoing administration.
Fewer than half of those surveyed have confidence that Democrats who control Congress will make the right decisions about the country’s future. And just under three in 10 have that confidence in congressional Republicans.
On the surface, these numbers are good news for Obama because they would seem to indicate that the public would give broad initial support to his proposals on the economy and the financial crisis.
But they also contain a certain element of risk. The public supports Obama today largely because of the positive feedback coming off the election and the transition. Once he actually starts doing things, though, that support is destined to slip. And, when the inevitable mis-step or international crisis intervenes, those high approval numbers could prove to be ephemeral.
Just ask Bill Clinton:
In 1993, Bill Clinton entered office with 72 percent of Republicans approving of how he handled his transition, higher than Obama’s support from across the aisle today. By May, after he had proposed to allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the military and pushed for a broad-based national health-care proposal, Clinton’s approval rating among Republicans had plunged to 22 percent.
Obama is unlikely to repeat the disastrous mistakes made by the Clinton team during the transition and the early months of the Administration, but they will make mistakes at some point. How the public reacts to that will go a long way toward determining the type of Presidency Barack Obama ends up having.