CBS Poll: Americans Optimistic About Obama

President Barack Obama's official portrait Pete Souza

A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds that President-elect Barack Obama is the recipient of the highest levels of optimism and expectations of any modern president.

Seventy-nine percent of Americans say they are optimistic about the next four years, according to the poll. Only 16 percent say they are pessimistic.

As a comparison, between 64 and 70 percent of Americans said they were optimistic before the presidencies of Mr. Obama's five predecessors.

Expectations for Mr. Obama are exceptionally high overall. Sixty-eight percent think he will be a very good or a good president - higher than past expectations for both President Bush in 2001 (by 25 points), and for his father, President George H.W. Bush in 1989 (by 30 points).

Mr. Obama also enters the White House with the highest favorability ratings of any president in the last 30 years. Sixty percent view him favorably and only nine hold a negative opinion of him.

By comparison, 44 percent had a favorable view of Mr. Bush in 2001, and 30 percent had a not favorable view.

As for the country, more than eight in 10 think things in the U.S. are worse now than they were five years ago, but 61 percent think things will be better five years from now.

Seven in 10 Americans believe Mr. Obama will bring real change to the way things are done in Washington, a theme of his campaign. Nearly all Democrats and almost half of Republicans agree. Seventy-one percent of Americans approve of Mr. Obama's cabinet appointments.

When Americans are asked what worries them most about Mr. Obama being president, 12 percent cite his inexperience, the same percent are concerned about his safety, and five percent say he won't be able to deliver on his campaign promises. Seven percent say nothing worries them about Mr. Obama being president.

Also, Joe Biden, elected to the Senate in 1972, prepares to assume the vice presidency with a 36 percent favorable rating, with a 13 percent not favorable rating. This rating is similar to that of incoming vice president Dick Cheney (37 percent) and Al Gore (36 percent), but higher than that of Dan Quayle (19 percent).

The Issues

Americans also express a lot of confidence that a President Obama will be able to deal with all the nation's top problems - the economy, Iraq, the situation in the Mideast and the threat of terrorism. About seven in ten express confidence he'll make the right decisions on each of these matters.

The economy is the top concern for Americans and it is the single most important thing they want Mr. Obama to address when he becomes president.

Confidence in Mr. Obama's ability to handle the economy has even gone up among registered voters since he was elected. Seventy-five percent were confident in October 2008 and 81 percent are today.

Improving the economy (40 percent) is followed by creating jobs (11 percent), the war in Iraq (10 percent), and the issue of health care (8 percent).

Jan 17:
Optimism About OBama (.pdf)
Pessimism On Economy (.pdf)
Jan 16:
The Complete Final Bush Poll (.pdf)
Expectations Of Obama (.pdf)
But when they look ahead four years, seventy-five percent of Americans expect the economy to get better over the course of Mr. Obama's first term. Five percent said they think it will get worse, and 17 expect it to get worse.

Similarly, three-quarters of Americans expect jobs to be created. Most also expect a middle class tax-cut, which Mr. Obama made a central part of his 2008 campaign.

But Americans don't expect things to change overnight. Most think it will take two years or more, for the economy to turn around. They suspect progress on another pocketbook issue, health care, will take a lot longer. Most think that is at least four years off.

Although the economy overtook foreign policy concerns in 2008, another important Obama campaign promise was to end the Iraq war. And most Americans (61 percent) think the new Administration will make progress toward ending the war within two years.

If Mr. Obama does make progress ending the war, that would please the 73 percent of Americans who want to see troops decreased or removed from Iraq altogether.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has talked of increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan and 34 percent favor that. Another 28 percent would keep levels as they are.

Mr. Obama has also promised to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center. More Americans (48 percent) are in favor of keeping it operational than of closing it (40 percent). However, though the number in support of closure has risen from 34 percent in the last two years.

These views divide on partisan lines, with Democrats more in favor of closing it.

On the issue of terrorism, Americans don't expect another terrorist attack soon -- just 34 percent think one is at least somewhat likely soon.



Photos: Inaugural Train Ride
Barack Obama spoke to crowds in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore in route to Washington D.C. Saturday. The trip retraced the path Abraham Lincoln took to his inauguration. (Photo: AP)
The number who feel an attack is very likely is now the lowest since this poll started asking the question in the fall of 2001, at just five percent.

Another possible change the Obama administration is contemplating is eliminating the so-called "Don't ask don't tell" policy pertaining to gays and lesbians in the military.

Unlike opinion early in President Bill Clinton's first term, today there is clear public support for allowing gays to serve. Today 67 percent favor it, nearly half do so strongly.

Both Republicans and Democrats favor allowing gays to serve. Most Americans of all age groups favor it, though the strongest support comes from those under age 45.

Moreover, most Americans, 62 percent, now think gays should be allowed to serve openly. This was not the case in 1993.


This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,112 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone January 11-15, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.
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