PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' views of Barack Obama's handling of terrorism remain closely divided, but mark a slight improvement from before the Christmas Day bombing attempt, with more Americans now approving than disapproving of how he is handling the issue.
"While Obama's approval rating on terrorism has inched up, his approval ratings for handling the economy and healthcare have declined slightly since they were last measured in late November."
Prior to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's alleged attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight headed for Detroit on Christmas Day, 45% of Americans approved and 47% disapproved of Obama's handling of terrorism. Now those who approve outnumber those who disapprove by 49% to 46%, according to the Jan. 8-10 USA Today/Gallup poll.
Both recent ratings are down from Gallup's initial reading of Obama's handling of terrorism from May, when 55% of Americans approved. The May reading came at a time when Obama's overall job approval rating was in the low 60% range, compared to his current ratings near 50%.
While Obama's approval rating on terrorism has inched up, his approval ratings for handling the economy and healthcare have declined slightly since they were last measured, in late November. His current 40% approval rating on the economy and 37% rating on healthcare are the lowest of his presidency to date. The latter number is of some concern as the president and Congress work toward final legislation on healthcare reform, which could be ironed out later this month. The public is currently divided on this legislation, and the president's leadership may be needed to bridge the gap between House and Senate Democrats while Obama tries to gain greater public backing for the reforms.
The new poll also finds Americans evenly divided at 47% on Obama's handling of foreign affairs more generally. The 47% approving is down from the prior reading in August, and follows the same general trajectory seen in his overall approval rating and his approval rating on most issues.
A majority of Democrats approve of Obama on each of the four issues tested in the poll, ranging from 64% on healthcare to 75% on foreign affairs. Republicans rate Obama poorly on all four issues, but better on terrorism than on the other three. Independents give Obama better marks on terrorism and foreign affairs than on the economy and healthcare, though all fall below the majority level.
President Obama's response to the Christmas Day bombing attempt -- including a review of the incident and the government's inability to prevent it, and the outlining of new steps designed to prevent a similar occurrence -- seems to have had a marginally positive effect on Americans' views of how he is handling the terrorism issue. Though voters regarded Obama as being stronger on domestic issues than on international matters as a candidate, as president, Obama is rated better to date for his handling of international matters like terrorism and foreign affairs than for his handling of the economy and healthcare, today's key domestic issues.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,023 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 8-10, 2010. 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.