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Despite Tough Climate, Public Prefers Obama's Policies

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From the Congressional Connection Poll:

By Jason Dick

Despite a tough year for President Obama, the public believes his administration's policies offer a better chance at improving the economy over the policies of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush. According to the latest Society for Human Resource Management/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted with the Pew Research Center, 46 percent said Obama's path would do more to improve economic conditions in the next few years, compared to 29 percent who said policies put in place by Bush would.

And regarding the most significant domestic policy of Bush's time in office, his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, the public is offering a split verdict on what course lawmakers should take as they all expire at the end of the year.

Overall, Obama's lead on the economy, although it falls short of a majority, is notable considering the public's sour mood. In a Congressional Connection Poll conducted last month, the National Journal Political Confidence Index for Obama stood at -16 and was at -14 for expectations that the federal government will make progress on the country's most pressing problems.

Americans' sentiment here matters, as the parties have ramped up their midterm political strategy by questioning the other side's economic acumen.

Democrats have trumpeted their legislative victories, notably Obama's signing of legislation Wednesday to overhaul the way the financial sector is regulated. They also argue that the stimulus Obama signed into law last year has put people back to work, especially public service officials like police officers and those working to repair the nation's infrastructure.

Republicans have accused Obama and the Democrats' congressional leadership of spending the country into a debt ditch, including Obama's signing of legislation Thursday to extend unemployment benefits for the hardest hit without offsetting the costs. They have also questioned whether the stimulus has worked and have made hay out of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, although Bush signed that program into law.

Regarding the stimulus, Republicans have tapped into some popular sentiment. The July 15-18 Congressional Connection Poll demonstrated how unpopular the stimulus was. Fifty-seven percent in that survey said the stimulus didn't keep unemployment from getting worse.

A sizable minority, 17 percent, said neither administration's policies would help, perhaps reflecting a pessimism taking hold as the economy continues to limp along. That matched Republicans' views, which stood at 18 percent. Only 3 percent of Democrats said neither administration's policies would help.

The number of independents who said neither administration's policies would help was higher than the overall sample, 27 percent. Forty-three percent of independents favored Obama's policies, while 20 percent favored Bush's.

Republicans and Democrats largely fell into party camps over which president's policies they favored, although a higher percentage of Democrats, 84 percent, threw their lot in with Obama than did Republicans who favored Bush, 63 percent.

Regarding the tax cuts, 30 percent of Americans believe all of Bush's 2001 and 2003 cuts should stay in place. That compared to 31 percent who believed that all of them should be repealed. Twenty-seven percent take the route Obama campaigned on: Tax cuts for the wealthy should be repealed, while the others should stay in place.

That sentiment was consistent across income lines. Among those making more than $75,000, 26 percent said only the tax cuts for the wealthy should be repealed. For those making $30,000 to $74,999, 31 percent concurred. And among those making less than $30,000, 28 percent said the tax cuts for the wealthy should be overturned.

Independents hewed closest to the overall sample. Twenty-seven percent said all the tax cuts should be kept in place. Thirty-two percent said they all should be repealed. Twenty-seven percent said the tax cuts for the wealthy should be repealed, but the middle class cuts should be kept in place.

This debate has intensified recently as the legislative calendar winds down and an agreement on how to proceed on the issue, particularly in the Senate, has remained elusive.

The poll of 1,004 adults reached by landline or cell phone was conducted Thursday through Sunday. The margin of error is 4 points for the entire sample, with larger error margins for subgroups.

See the full results of the poll at NationalJournal.com.

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