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Obama Gets Lowest Marks on Deficit, Highest on Foreign Affairs

Obama Gets Lowest Marks on Deficit, Highest on Foreign Affairs

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans continue to give President Obama low approval ratings for his handling of the federal deficit, the economy, and taxes, while giving him comparatively higher ratings for his handling of foreign affairs and the situation in Afghanistan.

November 2010: Do You Approve or Disapprove of the Way Barack Obama Is Handling [Issue]?

These results are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Nov. 19-21, prior to the latest WikiLeaks release of classified U.S. government documents. The poll asked Americans to say whether they approve or disapprove of the way Obama is dealing with each of five issues.

The president's overall job approval rating in the poll, conducted separately from Gallup Daily tracking, is 42%. His ratings on three of the issues tested -- foreign affairs, Afghanistan, and taxes -- are within two to four points of that rating. Obama's ratings on the economy and the federal budget deficit, however, are significantly lower than his overall approval -- by 7 and 10 points, respectively.

Obama's approval ratings on four issues -- foreign affairs, taxes, the economy, and the deficit -- are essentially unchanged from August of this year, although all are down significantly from 2009.

The exception to this pattern is Obama's handling of Afghanistan, which is up by eight points. This change in how the public views Obama's handling of Afghanistan is not unusual. Gallup has documented several changes of 10 points or more from measurement to measurement since 2009 -- most likely in response to real-world events relating to U.S. involvement in that war. Americans are also less pessimistic today about the war in Afghanistan than at any point in the last year.

2009-2010 Trend: November 2010: Do You Approve or Disapprove of the Way Barack Obama Is Handling the Situation in Afghanistan?

Across Issues, Republicans Most Approving of Obama on Afghanistan

Democrats, as would be expected, are much more likely to approve of the way President Obama is handling each of these five issues than are independents or Republicans. Democrats' approval ratings across the issues are in the 64% to 79% range; approval among independents ranges between 24% and 42%; and among Republicans, it is between 7% and 31%.

November 2010: Do You Approve or Disapprove of the Way Barack Obama Is Handling [Issue]? % Approve, Among All Americans and by Party ID

On a relative basis, Republicans are significantly more positive about Obama's handling of the situation in Afghanistan than they are about his handling of the other four issues. Republicans' 31% approval of Obama on Afghanistan is their highest for any of the issues tested, while Democrats' 64% approval on Afghanistan is their lowest. Thus, the gap between Republicans' and Democrats' ratings of Obama on Afghanistan is 33 points, substantially smaller than the gaps of at least 60 points between the partisan groups on Obama's handling of each of the other four issues.

Bottom Line

Americans give President Obama lower approval ratings on economic issues, and somewhat higher ratings on foreign affairs and his handling of Afghanistan. The president's low ratings on the economy are neither new nor unexpected. Americans overwhelmingly name economic matters as the nation's top problem, express ongoing concern about jobs and employment, and continue to have low overall economic confidence ratings.

There has been little meaningful change on most of these issue ratings since last summer; the exception is Obama's handling of Afghanistan. His approval ratings on this issue have proven much more fluid over the past two years than his ratings on other issues -- likely in response to developments in the war or in U.S. policy regarding the war.

Obama's handling of the situation in Afghanistan also evokes unusual patterns of differences across party lines. Republicans give Obama a higher rating on handling Afghanistan than on any other issue tested, while Democrats give him their lowest rating. This distinction could reflect the historical fact that a Republican president initiated America's involvement in Afghanistan, and that Republicans are much less likely to view the war in Afghanistan as a mistake than are Democrats.

This survey was conducted prior to the latest, and controversial, WikiLeaks release of classified U.S. documents, whose impact on Obama's issue approval ratings has yet to be determined.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 19-21, 2010, with a random sample of 1,037 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

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 landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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