PRINCETON, NJ -- All three major political groups in the United States tend to be optimistic rather than pessimistic when asked how President Barack Obama's job performance over the next two years will compare to the first two years, with Democrats overwhelmingly positive. Though most Republicans and independents expect Obama's performance to be the same, on the margins they are more inclined to think Obama will do a better rather than a worse job.
Half of Americans, overall, expect Obama's job performance in 2011 and 2012 to remain about the same, according to the Jan. 14-16 USA Today/Gallup survey. Relatively few -- 10% -- think it will get worse, while 39% predict it will get better.
Americans are also fairly upbeat when asked to predict the U.S. economy's direction over the same time frame. More than 4 in 10 think the economy will improve, while 20% say it will get worse. Here again, net optimism prevails among all three political groups, although it is particularly strong among Democrats.
Less Optimism About Government Performance
Compared with its outlook for Obama and the economy, the public is somewhat less confident that the government as a whole will work better now that the Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives.
While 59% of Republicans think government will work better as a result of the Republicans' newly gained power, far fewer independents (22%) and Democrats (10%) agree. However, Democrats are much more likely than independents to believe government will function worse, 41% vs. 16%. As a result, Democrats exhibit net pessimism on this question, while independents are slightly and Republicans strongly positive.
The political reality that the midterm elections have imposed on President Obama is that Republicans' -- and therefore conservatives' -- ability to shape legislation is greatly enhanced going forward. Half of Americans, including 79% of Republicans, 51% of independents, and 20% of Democrats, would like the president himself to pursue more conservative policies for the duration of his term.
Slightly more Democrats would prefer that Obama tack to the left than to the right; however, despite sharp criticism of Obama from some liberal commentators who feel let down by his decisions on taxes, healthcare, and Afghanistan, among other issues, far more Democrats think he should remain about the same.
Recent Gallup polling finds Americans believing Obama's leadership could be stronger -- particularly with respect to bringing about changes the country needs. Americans are nevertheless more optimistic than not that he will do better a better job over the next two years, even though half expect no change in his performance. In fact, they are more optimistic that Obama, personally, will do a better job than they are about the prospects for government as a whole.
The economy's direction over the duration of his term will be a major factor in how the public ultimately regards Obama. At this point, Americans are nearly as optimistic about the economy as they are about Obama, with net optimism exceeding 20 points for each. While the president's ability to directly affect the economy is somewhat limited, he will have more control over how Americans view his political ideology. The new poll suggests that he would fare best on that score by adopting more conservative policies, rather than adopting more liberal ones or even standing still. With Republicans wielding more power on Capitol Hill, that could also help Obama satisfy Americans' desire that Republican and Democratic leaders focus on finding common ground.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 14-16, 2011, with a random sample of 1,032 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 2010 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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.