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CBS/NYT Poll: Americans divided on Obama job performance in final year

President Obama prepares for the final State of the Union address of his presidency.
Obama prepares for State of the Union speech 01:45

By Anthony Salvanto, Jennifer De Pinto, Sarah Dutton and Fred Backus

As President Obama prepares to give his last State of the Union address, the country is split on his job performance: 46 percent of Americans approve, while 47 percent disapprove.

His approval rating has hovered in the low to mid-40s for most of his second term, although at the onset a slim majority approved of the job he was doing as president.


Perhaps not surprisingly, most Democrats approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing, while most Republicans disapprove (including three in four who disapprove strongly).

After seven years in office, 52 percent of Americans say President Obama's performance in office has been about what they expected, but 31 percent feel his performance has been worse. Few - even among Democrats -- say he has exceeded their expectations.

Americans remain pessimistic about the direction of the country. Just 27 percent think the country is headed in the right direction, while two-thirds think it is off on the wrong track. These views have been fairly consistent for the past few years and were actually more negative before Mr. Obama assumed office. In October 2008, amid the financial collapse and just before the presidential election, only 7 percent of Americans said the country was headed in the right direction - the lowest recorded in CBS News Polls.

Today, most Republicans (91 percent) think the country is off on the wrong track, compared to 47 percent of Democrats who say that. Generally, the party not in the White House has been more critical of the direction the country is headed.


President Obama vs. Past Presidents

Compared to other recent two-term presidents, Mr. Obama's job approval rating is higher than George W. Bush's was at a similar point in his presidency, but lower than the ratings of both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

Heading into the last year of George W. Bush's presidency, just 29 percent of Americans approved of the job he was doing, while 62 percent disapproved. These poor ratings were largely due to the public's dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and growing concerns about the nation's economy.

President Bill Clinton enjoyed a 60 percent job approval rating at the start of 2000, amid good economic times and relative peace. In January 1988, Ronald Reagan received net positive ratings from the public.


The President on the Issues

Mr. Obama receives net negative ratings on his handling of key issues. His lowest rating is on foreign policy - just 34 percent approve -- matching the lowest of his presidency. He gets his highest approval rating on the economy, at just 45 percent.

Most Democrats approve of the way the president is handling these issues. As their party gets ready to nominate a candidate that they hope will succeed Mr. Obama in the White House, 58 percent of Democratic primary voters would like the next nominee to generally continue his policies, although 38 percent would like to see a change to different policies.

The President and Gun Policy

The President recently announced an executive action concerning gun policy which seeks to expand background checks and strengthen enforcement of the nation's current gun laws. More than six in 10 Americans favor this executive action.

And while 52 percent of Republicans oppose this action, 43 percent are in favor. Gun owners are divided, and those living in a household with an NRA member are against it.

Although there may be support for the substance of President Obama's gun policy, the country is more divided on whether executive action was the right approach. Forty-nine percent of Americans think the president acted within his authority in issuing this executive action, but 43 percent think he exceeded his authority as president. Republicans are especially likely to think the President went beyond his authority.

When Americans are asked about gun laws more generally, 57 percent think gun laws should be more strict, up slightly from last month and at the level seen in October.

Most Democrats (82 percent) and half of independents (53 percent) think gun laws should be stricter, while just 36 percent of Republicans think that.

Special Report: Obama announces executive actions on gun control 45:15

There continues to be broad support for background checks. Eighty-eight percent of Americans favor background checks on all gun buyers, including majorities across party lines. Eight in 10 gun owners as well as those who live in a household with an NRA member support background checks for all gun buyers.

Just over half of Americans think stricter gun laws will help reduce gun violence at least somewhat, while 43 percent don't think stricter laws will help much. More see better mental health screening as being effective: more than three in four Americans (including most Republicans) think that would help to prevent gun violence.

Other Issues

The economy and jobs has been the top concern of Americans throughout the Obama presidency, but terrorism has recently eclipsed the economy as the nation's most pressing issue. In this poll, 13 percent of Americans cite terrorism generally or Islamic extremism as the country's top problem (although that's down slightly from last month), closely followed by the economy and jobs with 12 percent.

The public continues to be pessimistic about the U.S. fight against ISIS. 67 percent think the fight is going badly, while 27 percent think it is going well.

Americans' views of the nation's economy are a bit rosier than they were last month. 49 percent think the economy is in good shape, while 49 percent say it is bad - that's down from 53 percent last month.

Congress and the New Speaker

Americans are split in their evaluations of the new Speaker of the House, Republican Paul Ryan, but four in 10 don't have an opinion on his job performance. Among members of his own party, more approve than disapprove -- better than the outgoing ratings of his predecessor.

Shortly before leaving office in October, 46 percent of Republican voters disapproved of the job Speaker John Boehner was doing, while fewer -- 38 percent -- approved.

Congress overall continues to receive dismal ratings from the American public. Three in four disapprove of the job Congress is doing, while only 15 percent approve.

This poll was conducted by telephone January 7-10, 2015 among a random sample of 1,276 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News and The New York Times by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.

The poll employed a random digit dial methodology. For the landline sample, a respondent was randomly selected from all adults in the household. For the cell sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone.

Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish using live interviewers. The data have been weighted to reflect U.S. Census figures on demographic variables.

The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher and is available by request. The margin of error includes the effects of standard weighting procedures which enlarge sampling error slightly.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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