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Poll: Americans optimistic about Obama's next four years

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

Nearly six in 10 Americans say they are optimistic about the next four years with Barack Obama as president, according to a new CBS News/ New York Times poll.

The president heads into his second term with daunting fiscal challenges on the horizon. In the coming weeks, he will have to work with a combative Congress to raise the nation's borrowing limit, avert unwanted spending cuts and extend the federal government's operating budget. The president is also expected to spur job growth while reducing the nation's deficits and debts. Nevertheless, Americans are more likely to think the economy will be better off than worse off after four more years.

Pie Chart - Optimism for President
CBS/NYT

As might be expected, most Republicans (78 percent) are pessimistic about the next four years with Mr. Obama as president, according to the poll, conducted Jan. 11-15. Meanwhile, a majority of Democrats (89 percent) and independents (59 percent) are optimistic.

The nation's overall sentiment, with 59 percent of Americans saying they are optimistic, is similar to what it was in January 2005, as President George W. Bush was about to start his second term. In 1997, when President Bill Clinton was entering his second term, people were slightly more optimistic at 66 percent.

Optimism was more widespread just before Mr. Obama took office four years ago. Then, 79 percent of Americans (including 56 percent of Republicans) expressed optimism about his presidency.

When asked what they would like to see Mr. Obama accomplish in his second term, 35 percent volunteered improving the economy and jobs. Another 13 percent said dealing with the budget deficit, and while others mentioned taxes, health care, ending the war in Afghanistan, and more bipartisanship.

Even though Mr. Obama is about to begin his fifth year in office, more Americans continue to blame former President George W. Bush for the condition of the economy (27 percent), than blame the current president (13 percent). Wall Street (19 percent) and Congress (14 percent) get some blame, too.

Chart - Right Decision
CBS/NYT

Looking ahead to some of the issues Mr. Obama will confront over the next four years, most Americans are at least somewhat confident that he will make the right decisions on the economy, Afghanistan, protecting the country from terrorism and illegal immigration. They are more likely to be very confident in his ability to handle Afghanistan and terrorism.

After the next four years, 42 percent of Americans expect the nation's economy to be better, the poll shows, while just 25 percent think it will be worse.

However, expectations for the nation's health care system are not as positive. More Americans think the health care system will be worse (38 percent) rather than better (33 percent) by the end of Mr. Obama's second term.

The president's job ratings

A 44 percent plurality of Americans think Mr. Obama accomplished about what they expected during his first term in office, but 36 percent say he accomplished less than expected, and just 18 percent say he accomplished more.

There are partisan differences: Half of Republicans think he accomplished less, while Democrats are more evenly divided.

Fifty-one percent of Americans now approve of the overall job Mr. Obama is doing as president. This is a slight improvement from this time a year ago, but lower than the approval rating he received just after taking office in 2009.

Mr. Obama's overall job approval rating is similar to that of President George W. Bush as he was heading into his second term, but lower than the approval ratings of Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan just before they began their second terms.

However, fewer than half of Americans approve of how the president is handling some key issues. He does best on foreign policy (49 percent), and gets his lowest approval rating on handling the deficit (37 percent).

Mr. Obama has recently made some appointments to his cabinet, and more Americans generally approve than disapprove of his selections. However, 28 percent have no opinion.

As debate begins to heat up over issues like the deficit and gun control, 59 percent of Americans think the president will have more influence than the Republicans in Congress over the direction of the country for the next two years. There is agreement on this across party lines.

Even though Americans may be generally optimistic about the next four years with Mr. Obama in the White House, they are not especially hopeful that there will be more cooperation between Republicans and Democrats than there has been in the last four years. Fifty-five percent said they expect the level of cooperation to remain the same.

The Mood of the country and the economy

A majority of Americans (57 percent) continue to think the country is off on the wrong track, but 38 percent now believe it is headed in the right direction. This assessment is an improvement from a year ago, and significantly better than four years ago, as Mr. Obama was about to assume the presidency.

Views of the economy continue to be negative (66 percent say it's bad), but have remained fairly steady over the last few months, and are markedly more positive today than they were four years ago. About a third of Americans think the economy is getting better.

While a majority of Americans are at least somewhat concerned about a job loss in their household, just 27 percent are very concerned, the lowest percentage since August 2009.

For the full poll results, see next page


This poll was conducted by telephone from January 11-15, 2013 among 1,110 adults nationwide.

Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line 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 may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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