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Obama's Leadership Qualities Stand Out to Americans

Seven in 10 say the president is willing to make hard decisions

PRINCETON, NJ -- Of seven personal characteristics, Americans rate Barack Obama most highly for those that reflect on his leadership skills. Seventy-two percent say he "is willing to make hard decisions," and 66% describe him as "a strong and decisive leader." Sixty-four percent say he "can get things done."

Seven Qualities and Characteristics: Do They Apply to Barack Obama?

"As Obama's job approval rating has declined in recent months, so have his ratings on most personal characteristics. The biggest hit to Obama's image has come in perceptions that he can manage the government effectively."

The poll also shows that Obama gets high marks for empathy, as he has done since he rose to national prominence. Sixty-four percent say Obama understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives. No less than 63% of Americans have said this about Obama since the characteristic was first measured in March 2008.

His weakest traits, according to Americans, are those most closely tied to his politics -- "shares your values" (52%) and "has mostly chosen good advisers and cabinet officers" (52%). Still, a majority of Americans attribute these positive characteristics to Obama.

As Obama's job approval rating has declined in recent months, so have his ratings on most personal characteristics. The biggest hit to Obama's image has come in perceptions that he can manage the government effectively. In April, near the 100-day mark of his presidency, 66% of Americans believed he was effectively managing the government. That declined to 59% in July, and now stands at 55%.

Ratings of Barack Obama: Able to Manage Government Effectively

That decline is mostly due to changes in the way Republicans and independents view Obama's managerial competence. Democrats' views have barely changed (90% in April vs. 88% today), while Republicans' (38% vs. 21%) and independents' (63% vs. 50%) ratings are down more than 10 points each.

Obama's ratings among all Americans on the three other characteristics Gallup has tracked during Obama's presidency -- shares your values, is a strong and decisive leader, and understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives -- are also down from April. But most of those declines occurred between April and July, and all three readings appear to have leveled off and have not gotten appreciably worse in the September update.

Ratings of Barack Obama: Three Personal Characteristics

Democrats rate Obama highly on all of the personal characteristics. The variation in his overall scores is due mostly to differences in how Republicans and independents rate him. For example, at least 4 in 10 Republicans and roughly 6 in 10 independents rate him positively on his top-rated traits. In contrast, less than 30% of Republicans and 50% or less of independents believe he embodies the characteristics on which he receives the lowest ratings.

Ratings of Barack Obama on Seven Personal Characteristics, by Party ID

Bottom Line

As Obama tries to address major challenges with the economy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and healthcare reform, Americans acknowledge his leadership qualities, including his willingness to make hard decisions and the strength and decisiveness of his leadership. At the same time, Americans are losing some confidence in his ability to manage the government effectively, perhaps in response to reports of mounting federal budget deficits.

Obama's job approval ratings in the low 50s are well above George W. Bush's ratings in the final years of his presidency, but in some ways, the trends in character ratings between the two are similar. As Bush's job approval rating declined in his second term in office, so did his ratings on the various personal characteristics. The decline in Bush's character ratings was especially evident in terms of his ability to manage the government, but he continued to receive his best ratings for his leadership qualities.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,030 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 11-13, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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