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Obama Gets Highest Approval on Iraq, Lowest on Deficit

Little change in Obama approval on economy, healthcare

PRINCETON, NJ -- Of the seven specific issue approval ratings measured in a Sept. 11-13 USA Today/Gallup poll, President Obama gets his highest rating (56%) on his handling of Iraq, and his lowest (38%) on the federal deficit. Obama's approval ratings on handling the economy and healthcare, at 46% and 43%, respectively, are little changed over the past two months.

Barack Obama Approval: Seven Issues

"The president's current 38% approval on handling the deficit, and the accompanying 58% disapproval, is thus his worst rating to date on the issue, and the most negative reading on any of the seven issues tested in this survey."

In the Sept. 11-13 survey, Obama's overall job approval rating is 54%. Of the seven issues tested, only for Iraq is Obama's approval rating higher than his overall approval rating. His ratings on five of the issues -- energy policy, Afghanistan, the economy, healthcare policy, and the federal budget deficit -- are below his overall approval rating, while his rating on handling the environment is identical to his overall rating.

The Economy

Obama's job approval ratings on handling the economy can be divided into two phases. In the most recent three measurements -- taken over the last two months -- his economic rating has held between 46% and 48%. Earlier in his administration -- from February through May -- Obama's economic ratings were higher, between 55% and 59%.

Opinion of Barack Obama on the Economy

Gallup's consumer confidence measures have improved somewhat since mid-July, but Americans are apparently not yet giving credit to the president for their increased economic optimism.


Despite the intensity with which the healthcare debate has been waged in recent months, and President Obama's ongoing involvement in that debate, there has been little change in the way Americans view Obama's handling of healthcare policy across Gallup surveys conducted in July and August, and in the current Sept. 11-13 survey. Obama's approval rating on healthcare has been 43% or 44% in all three surveys, and his disapproval rating has varied only slightly -- between 49% and 52%.

Opinion of Barack Obama on Healthcare

The Federal Budget Deficit

President Obama's approval rating on handling the federal budget deficit is down from 49% in March to 38% today, with at least a slight drop in each of the three surveys that followed the initial March reading. The president's current 38% approval on handling the deficit, and the accompanying 58% disapproval, is thus his worst rating to date on the issue, and the most negative reading on any of the seven issues tested in this survey.

Opinion of Barack Obama on the Federal Budget Deficit

Iraq and Afghanistan

Gallup has measured public approval of Obama's handling of Iraq and Afghanistan only twice, in mid-July and in the current survey. In July, Obama's approval ratings for these two situations were virtually identical, at 57% for Iraq and 56% for Afghanistan. Approval on Iraq has stayed essentially the same in the current survey, but there has been a seven-point drop in Obama's approval rating for handling Afghanistan.

Opinion of Barack Obama on Afghanistan and Iraq

This current differentiation in perceived handling of the two wars occurs in contrast to recent Gallup findings showing that Americans are much more likely to see the situation in Iraq as a mistake than they are to see Afghanistan this way.

Energy and the Environment

This survey marks the first time that Gallup has measured Obama's presidential approval ratings on energy policy and the environment. The president gets slightly higher marks for his handling of the environment than for energy policy (54% vs. 50%), although the difference is not large.

Opinion of Barack Obama on the Environment and Energy Policy

Bottom Line

There is an 18-point spread between Obama's highest and lowest issue approval ratings in Gallup's Sept. 11-13 survey, from 56% on Iraq to 38% on the deficit. The fact that only one of the seven ratings exceeds Obama's overall job approval rating underscores that Americans are more positive about Obama in a general sense than in terms of most specific issues.

Obama's relative weaknesses at this time, as measured by public approval of the job he is doing handing various issues, would appear to be the deficit, healthcare, and the economy. The fact that there has been no change since July in Americans' ratings of how Obama is handling healthcare or the economy suggests that Americans' views on these issues may have become fairly entrenched -- unless and until new administration or legislative actions are forthcoming to deal with either. It is also of note that Americans rate the president's handling of Afghanistan lower than his handling of Iraq -- while two months ago, his approval ratings on the two wars were virtually identical.

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 margin of error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the 501 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 529 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline 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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