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Poll: Obama Ends First Year with 50% Approval Rating

President Obama completes his first year in office with his job approval rating rising in the past week to 50 percent now, according to a new CBS News poll. His handling of the U.S. response to the earthquake in Haiti receives widespread approval.

However, Mr. Obama's overall rating is lower than when he took office, according to the poll, conducted Jan. 14 – Jan. 17. A significant portion of the public says his administration has so far done too much for banks and not enough for small businesses or the middle class.

Mr. Obama's current standing is similar to that of several recent presidents after their first years in office.

Americans think Mr. Obama has had limited success in meeting his campaign themes of bringing change to Washington and getting past partisanship. A sharp partisan divide clouds many policy evaluations in this poll.

Approval Ratings

Mr. Obama's job approval rating is now 50 percent, up from last week's all-time low of 46 percent. When he took office a year ago, 62 percent approved.

The recent four-point rise in Mr. Obama's overall job approval rating may reflect the widespread approval of his handling of the U.S. response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti last week; 80 percent approve, and just 8 percent disapprove. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents approve on this measure.

But when it comes to overall approval, the president has maintained his early high approval ratings only among Democrats (four in five approve). Only four in 10 independents and a quarter of Republicans now approve. A year ago, 56 percent of independents approved of the job President Obama was doing, as did 36 percent of Republicans.

At 50 percent, Mr. Obama's approval rating is similar to that of Presidents Ronald Reagan (49 percent), Jimmy Carter (51 percent) and Bill Clinton (54 percent) one year into their presidencies. All were plagued by economic troubles – and Mr. Clinton also attempted to reform health care.

The president's current marks are lower than those given to other presidents: George W. Bush (82 percent), George H.W. Bush (76 percent), John F. Kennedy (79 percent) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (70 percent).

First Year Winners and Losers

The poll suggests that Americans believe Mr. Obama has focused too much on helping American industry and not enough on helping Americans themselves.

Forty-nine percent say the president has done too much for the banks, and 37 percent think he's done too much for U.S. auto makers. At the same time, 54 percent say he's done too little for the middle class, six in 10 think he's done too little for small businesses and a plurality says he's done too little for homeowners.

Independents (along with Republicans) strongly believe that Mr. Obama has not done enough for the middle class and say he has done too much for the banks. Democrats are more likely to say he has done the "right amount" for the middle class.

Impact of Obama's Policies

As it has been throughout the Obama administration – and for part of the previous one -- the economy is the nation's top issue, and here the news is good for the president. Thirty-nine percent say Obama's policies have helped the economy, while 25 percent say they have hurt. Three in 10 say those policies have had no impact.

But Americans are split on the issue that has taken up much of the first year's agenda -- the potential impact of health care reform. Forty-one percent say the health system would improve if reform passes, while 35 percent say it would get worse. Democrats are more optimistic, with 63 percent saying it would get better and only 11 percent saying it would get worse.

On terrorism, however, 41 percent of Americans think the Obama administration's policies have had no impact on the U.S.' safety level. Twenty-eight percent say the country is safer while 22 percent say it is less safe.

From a policy standpoint, partisan perceptions dominate these first-year evaluations. There are clear partisan divides on the economy, health care and terrorism, with Republicans highly critical of the president and Democrats supportive.

One goal of the Obama campaign was to improve America's image abroad. More say he's done so (50 percent) than hasn't (20 percent) – yet the percent who think he's improved that image is down from July, when 60 percent thought so.

Views of the President

Change in Washington was a central element of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and a year after taking office few think he has accomplished that goal. Six in 10 say Mr. Obama has not changed Washington; just 35 percent say he has. He receives some credit for bringing different groups of Americans together; half say he has united the country, but 37 percent think he has divided it.

A strong majority (69 percent) says Mr. Obama cares a lot or some about them – but that is down from when he took office, and the percentage that thinks he does not care about them has doubled to 29 percent.

The Obama Presidency: Expectations and Evaluations

More than half of Americans think Mr. Obama has accomplished about what they expected him to in his first year in office, but some voice disappointment. Twenty-six percent think the president has accomplished less than they expected, while only 14 percent say he has exceeded their expectations.

There is disappointment about the president's fulfillment of the goals he laid out during his campaign. Less than one in five says he has kept all or most of his campaign promises. Three quarters say he has kept just some or hardly any of them.

At the start of his presidency, two in three Americans expected Mr. Obama to be a good or very good president. A year later, just 46 percent say he has been good or very good, while 54 percent say he has been average or poor.

Despite these evaluations, 62 percent of Americans remain optimistic about the next three years with Barack Obama as president – but that's down from 79 percent a year ago.

View of Congress

As the capitol gears up for what looks to be a hard fought midterm election year, approval of the job Congress is doing stands at just 23 percent. A majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents all disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

Currently, 44 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Democrats in Congress, while 48 percent view them unfavorably - back in September, more viewed them favorably than not. But the Republicans remain more unpopular overall; just a third of Americans view the Republicans in Congress favorably.

Seventy-seven percent of Democrats view the Democrats in Congress favorably, while only 55 percent of Republicans feel the same about their own Congressional delegation. Independents view both parties in Congress unfavorably.

The Vice President, the First Lady and the Secretary of State

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden all receive favorable job approval ratings. Three in four Americans approve of the way Clinton is handling her job as Secretary of State, and a similar percentage (78 percent) approves of how Michelle Obama is handling her role as first lady – though approval has dropped slightly from 84 percent last April. Although just 46 percent approve of the way Biden is handling his job, only 27 percent disapprove, while 27 percent don't have an opinion.

While majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike all approve of how Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama are handling their jobs, Republicans and independents are divided over Biden.

Read the Complete Poll

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This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,090 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone January 14-17, 2010. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial 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 is higher.

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

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