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In U.S., Majority Now Say Obama's Policies "Mostly Liberal"

In U.S., Majority Now Say Obama's Policies "Mostly Liberal"

PRINCETON, NJ -- A majority of Americans now see President Barack Obama as governing from the left. Specifically, 54% say his policies as president have been mostly liberal while 34% call them mostly moderate. This contrasts with public expectations right after Obama's election a year ago, when as many expected him to be moderate as to be liberal.

Perceptions of Barack Obama's Policies: Mostly Liberal, Mostly Moderate, or Mostly Conservative

"While most Americans say it is important to them that President Obama keep the promises he made during the campaign (82%), far fewer, 48%, currently believe he has done so."

This finding comes from a USA Today/Gallup survey, conducted Oct. 16-19, which offers several indications that Obama's public image has changed since his election last November. Much of that change is inauspicious for Obama.

Perhaps related to the re-evaluation of Obama's ideological orientation, fewer Americans today than in April say Obama is keeping the promises he made during the campaign.

While most Americans say it is important to them that President Obama keep the promises he made during the campaign (82%), far fewer, 48%, currently believe he has done so. This represents a slide in support for the president on this measure since April, when nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) said he was keeping his promises.

Has President Obama Been Keeping the Promises He Made During His Presidential Campaign?

The decline in the percentage saying Obama has kept his promises is seen among all three major parties, dropping from 92% to 77% among Democrats, from 54% to 41% among independents, and from 45% to 22% among Republicans. To some degree, of course, the longer a president serves, the more opportunities there are for people to see him as breaking promises, which may account for some of this shift since the early months of Obama's presidency.

A majority of Americans (56%) say it is very important to them that Obama keep his promises and another 26% call this somewhat important. A much smaller 16% say that keeping his word is either not that important to them or not important at all.

Dampened Favorable Rating a Key Indicator

Obama's favorable rating, now 55%, is a more fundamental indicator of the post-election change in his image. Immediately after the election, 68% of Americans viewed Obama favorably. The figure rose to 78% around the time of his inauguration and registered in the mid- to high 60s from March through July. However, an early October Gallup survey showed the figure dropping to 56%, similar to the latest finding.

Barack Obama Favorable Rating: 2008-2009 Trend

A comparison of the July and October ratings shows that Obama's image has fallen the most among Republicans and independents. While Gallup sees less change among Democrats, the finding that fewer than 90% now view Obama favorably (and 11% view him unfavorably) is noteworthy.

Trend in Favorable Views of Barack Obama, by Party ID

Among Democrats by ideology, Obama's favorability rating has fallen mostly among moderate Democrats, from 97% to 84%, with a smaller dip among conservative Democrats, 78% to 72%. It has held steady at 97% among liberal Democrats.

This erosion of support for Obama among moderate Democrats (as well as among Republicans and independents) may correspond with the increasing percentage of Americans perceiving that Obama is governing from the left.

Bottom Line

President Obama is not enjoying the same broad appeal and centrist image that he did in the afterglow of his election last November. Although a majority of Americans continue to view him favorably, this percentage has declined. The common perception that he would govern as a moderate has given way to a heightened belief that Obama's policies are mostly liberal. (Interpreted in the light of Americans' generally conservative leanings, this could be a problem for Obama politically.) And whereas in April most Americans believed he was sticking to the promises he made during the campaign, fewer than half now say that's the case.

These findings are reinforced by Obama's subdued job approval rating, which has been consistently tracking in the low 50s over the last several months. They also conform with Gallup findings reported earlier this week indicating that, compared to a year ago, Americans have generally lost hope that Obama can heal political divisions in the country or control federal spending, and are less optimistic about his ability to accomplish a number of other important goals.

As long as Obama's overall job approval rating remains above 50%, these setbacks would seem to be tolerable in a political sense -- perhaps indicating nothing more than the cost of bold leadership at a difficult time for the country. But should he fall well below that important threshold in public support over a sustained period, the findings may point to weaknesses Obama may need to address.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,521 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 16-19, 2009, including an oversample of 408 blacks, consisting of 102 interviews done as part of the random national sample and 306 interviews with blacks who had previously participated in national Gallup polls and agreed to be re-interviewed at a later date. The data from the national sample and re-interviews are combined and weighted to be demographically representative of the national adult population in the United States and to reflect the proper proportion of blacks in the overall population. For results based on this sample of national adults, the maximum margin of error is ±3 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.

2009 Detailed Trend: Has Barack Obama Been Keeping the Promises He Made During His Presidential Campaign?

How Important Is It to You That Barack Obama Keep the Promises He Made During the Presidential Campaign? Among National Adults and by Party ID

Detailed Trend: Have the Policies Barack Obama Has Pursued as President Been Mostly Liberal, Mostly Moderate, or Mostly Conservative?

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