Is Obama Viewed Better Than Clinton on Health Care?

President Barack Obama has made health care reform a priority for his administration, and while still in the early stages, Congress is in the process of developing health care legislation.

A previous Democratic President's attempt to reform health care was unsuccessful; so far, is President Obama faring any better?

Our polling shows that health care isn't one of this president's strong suits. In the most recent CBS News/New York Times Poll, conducted June 12-16, Americans gave comparatively lower marks to Mr. Obama for his handling of health care.

While more Americans approved than disapproved by 44 percent to 34 percent, with nearly a quarter unsure, the president's overall approval rating was much higher, at 63 percent. Far more Americans approved of how he was handling other specific issues such as the economy (57 percent), foreign policy (59 percent) and terrorism (57 percent).

Overall 63%
The economy 57%
Foreign policy 59%
Terrorism 57%
Health care 44%
The auto industry 41%
(CBS News/New York Times Poll)

Nor is there much bipartisan support for how Mr. Obama is handling health care. Just 13 percent of Republicans approve, and fully 66 percent disapprove. Among Democrats, the figures are reversed: 68 percent approve and 15 percent disapprove. Independents are divided – 38 percent approve and 33 percent disapprove, with 29 percent unsure.

President Bill Clinton also tried to change the U.S. health care system, but without success. Approval for Mr. Clinton's handling of health care was initially higher than Mr. Obama's is now. In October 1993, a CBS News Poll found 52 percent approved, and 34 percent disapproved.

But by early 1994, as specific elements of the plan became known, disapproval regularly began to significantly outpace approval. By late 1994, about half the public disapproved of how Mr. Clinton was handling health care.

Approve Disapprove
September 1994 40% 51%
August 1994 40% 50%
June 1994 41% 50%
April 1994 43% 48%
February 1994 39% 46%
January 1994 45% 43%
November 1993 49% 37%
October 1993 52% 34%
(CBS News/New York Times Polls)

President Clinton also started out with more bipartisan support for how he was dealing with health care than President Obama has now. In the October 1993 poll, 39% of Republicans approved of how he was handling the issue, as did 69% of Democrats and 47% of independents. While there was still a partisan divide, it was smaller than it is now.

But Mr. Obama's overall job approval ratings have been much higher than Mr. Clinton's were in 1993. In June 1993, just 38 percent approved of the job Mr. Clinton was doing, in large part due to concerns about the economy. In contrast, about six in 10 Americans have approved of the job Mr. Obama is doing since he took office earlier this year.

Approve Disapprove Don't know
Bill Clinton - 6/1993 38% 47% 15%
Barack Obama - 6/2009 63% 26% 11%
(CBS News/New York Times Polls)

Mr. Clinton's health care plan was unveiled to the public in the fall of 1993, and by early the following year sizable segments of the public expressed doubts about the plan's fairness, effectiveness at improving health care and cost.

The public has yet to see what the current Democratic-controlled Congress and President Obama will offer in the way of reform. Polls will reflect how those proposals are viewed by the public.

Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.

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    Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys.