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Friday, November 27, 2009

For Obama, Numbers That Matter Now

It was a week ago today that we first found President Barack Obama's job approval rating below the 50% threshold at 49%. Save for one 48% in Nov. 19-21 interviewing, each of the last seven reporting periods have yielded the same results. *Note, we did not interview on Thanksgiving Day, so today's results reflect Monday-Wednesday interviewing. Saturday's results will reflect Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Seven days below 50% may seem like a new normal of sorts, but, frankly, it is too early to tell. Obama's biggest challenges are also his biggest opportunities to play a role in whether the current trend reverses or whether the lines ultimately touch and cross.

Here's a shortcut to the Gallup data on the three issues which arguably matter most in the near-term.

* Afghanistan: Americans currently lean more toward increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan than reducing them, 47% to 39%. So, if Obama chooses to send more troops, he'll enjoy more support than opposition, but with less than a majority behind the decision itself and 66% saying the situation there is going badly, it'll take results to get more than half of Americans on his side on that issue.

* Healthcare: Our data on Americans' views about healthcare are extensive and nuanced. Americans divide closely, 50% to 47%, on whether it is the federal government's responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage. They rate U.S. healthcare coverage more positively than they did a year ago, but they see "access" as the most urgent problem. Our lead story for Monday morning reviews Americans' latest advice for Congress -- finding 49% against or leaning against reform and 44% for or leaning for it. Again, lawmakers please less than a majority either way. (Update: Read the story.)

* The Economy: It's picking up again as the most important problem. A majority (58%) name an economic issue as the most important problem facing the country, including 31% who say the economy in general and 20% who name unemployment. If these numbers keep ticking higher, while job creation and consumer spending continue to languish, it will be difficult for the president to post significant approval gains more broadly.

We expect to see action on each of these issues soon beginning with Obama's Tuesday announcement on Afghanistan, his Thursday forum on jobs, and floor debate in the U.S. Congress on healthcare.

Our most recent USA Today/Gallup poll asked Americans to rate President Obama's job performance on seven specific issues: the economy, the situation in Afghanistan, healthcare policy, energy policy, terrorism, global warming and creating jobs. We'll report what we found on these measures next week, while, of course, continuing to track Obama's overall job approval rating daily. In the meantime, here's more on where Obama stands compared with other presidents with a long way to go.


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