Obama report card: Mediocre grades, 'more effort needed'

Recent polls have not been kind to President Obama as he appears to be losing ground, especially among moderates and independents. Will his second-term agenda, as outlined in his State of the Union address, help him?

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, in Washington, about helping the long-term unemployed.

Public opinion polls have not been kind to President Obama in recent months.

As of the end of January, his job approval-disapproval rating tracked negatively (42-51), according to Gallup’s daily tracking poll.

Other job-approval polls have been in similar negative territory.  Quinnipiac, 40-54; Reuters/Ipsos, 37-55; Associated Press/GfK, 45-53; NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 43-51.

The most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll pegged Obama’s approval at 46 percent, up from 42 percent in November but still down from 55 percent in January 2013, notes Post liberal columnist E. J. Dionne.

“The Post/ABC News poll found that over the last year, Obama has lost the most ground among moderates and independents, moderate-to-conservative Democrats, women, and middle-income voters,” writes Mr. Dionne. “This is close to the definition of the center ground of American opinion.”

Obama’s State of the Union speech last week was his big chance to move things in a more positive direction. For over an hour, he had Congress’s attention. Much of the voting public watched as well.

To most viewers and pundits, he came across as upbeat, sounding a theme of “opportunity,” and confidently asserting that if Congress lags behind, he’ll wield his executive pen to make things happen on his own.

That go-it-alone approach to presidential governing – in the abstract, anyway – is approved by most voting Americans, but just barely: 51-48 percent in that Washington Post/ABC News Poll.

But how do voters feel about some of the major themes Obama presented in his State of the Union address, which is a kind of outline for where he wants to be headed as his second term winds down?

Gallup took a look at ten key issues. Here’s some of what they found:

Immigration: “Thirty-eight percent of Americans are satisfied with the level of immigration into the U.S., and 54 percent are dissatisfied. Most of those who are dissatisfied want to see immigration levels decreased….Americans widely favor a variety of proposals to address illegal immigration, including tightening security at U.S. borders, requiring business owners to check new employees' immigration status, extending the number of short-term work visas for skilled workers, and giving illegal immigrants in the U.S. a path to citizenship.”

Minimum wage: “Americans overwhelmingly support increasing the minimum wage. Gallup found in November that 76 percent of Americans favor a specific proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour.”

Energy and the environment: “The president proposed more investment in nontraditional fuels. The public would appear to agree with this emphasis. Given a tradeoff between developing alternative energy such as wind and solar power, and the production of more oil, gas, and coal supplies, Americans lean heavily toward the former, by 59-31 percent.”

Invest in infrastructure: “A Gallup survey conducted last March showed that 77 percent of Americans would vote for a federal government program that would put people to work on urgent infrastructure programs. A slightly different version of that question included the phrase ‘spend government money’ to put people to work on infrastructure, and that version produced 72 percent support.”

Affordable Care Act: “It is clear that the public as a whole is more negative than positive about the legislation. Gallup's last measure, in January, showed 54 percent disapprove of the law, while 38 percent approve, the most negative assessment in Gallup's trend. Additionally, the plurality of Americans say Obamacare has had a more negative than positive effect on them personally, and that it will have a more negative effect on them and on the country in the future.”

Foreign trade/Bringing jobs home: “Gallup has asked Americans twice over the past five years to say in their own words what would be the best way to create more jobs in the U.S. The most frequently mentioned response in both instances was keeping manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and not sending them overseas.”

Reform surveillance programs: “Americans don't seem to be clamoring for action on the issue. In fact, less than half of Americans, 42 percent, rated government surveillance of citizens as an extremely or very high priority for the president and Congress this year. However, government spying programs are a latent public concern, and therefore a potential liability for Obama. Sixty-three percent of Americans say they are very or somewhat dissatisfied with the government's surveillance of U.S citizens.”

Gun violence: “Gallup trends suggest that the window for capitalizing on Americans' post-Sandy Hook concern about the issue may be over. Public support for passing stricter gun laws spiked in the first month after the December 2012 tragedy, but by October 2013, it had nearly reverted to pre-Newtown levels. Additionally, while satisfaction with existing gun laws is down, that mostly reflects those who are dissatisfied because they believe gun laws are too strict, rather than not strict enough.”

New retirement savings vehicle MyRA: “The importance to Americans of having a way to grow tax-deferred savings for retirement was evident in a 2013 Wells Fargo-Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey, which found that 83 percent of investors believe 401(k) and other tax-advantaged accounts are highly important to saving for retirement. The same poll found majorities of investors calling it extremely or very important for the federal government to take a number of steps that could encourage more Americans to use 401(k) accounts; thus, it seems likely investors would welcome the establishment of a new tax-deferred option.”

Limits on drones: “Americans generally oppose the use of drones to attack suspected terrorists who are either U.S. citizens or living on U.S. soil. But a majority of Americans do support using drones against suspected terrorists (not identified as U.S. citizens) living in other countries. Americans are particularly opposed to using drones in the United States, even against suspected terrorists who are not U.S. citizens.”

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