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Obama Rates Higher Than Boehner, Reid on Debt Situation

Obama Rates Higher Than Boehner, Reid on Debt Situation

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are more likely to approve of the way President Obama is handling the negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling than they are to approve of the handling of the situation by Speaker of the House John Boehner or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, although opinions about all three are more negative than positive.

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These results are from a special one night USA Today/Gallup poll conducted July 27, as Speaker Boehner was marshaling support for Thursday's House vote on his version of a new budget plan.

President Obama's 41% approval rating on handling the situation is 10 percentage points higher than Boehner's and 18 points higher than Reid's. However, more Americans have an opinion about Obama's handling of the situation than is the case for the other two men, so when those with no opinion are factored out of the results, Obama's advantage is lessened. Among those with an opinion about his handling of the situation, the president has 44% approval and 56% disapproval, compared with 39% and 61% for Boehner and 31% and 69% for Reid.

Democrats More Loyal to Obama Than Republicans Are to Boehner

One notable challenge for Speaker Boehner is rank-and-file Republicans' relatively low level of support for his handling of the situation. Half of Republicans approve of Boehner's handling of the debt crisis, compared with 75% of Democrats who approve of Obama's handling. Reid does worst of all among rank-and-file identifiers with his own party, receiving 36% approval among Democrats (36% of Democrats also disapprove of Reid's handling the situation, with the remainder not having an opinion).

Independents will be a critically important group in next year's presidential election. At this point, a little more than a third of independents approve of how Obama is handling the debt situation, slightly more than approve of Boehner's handling.

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A Third of Tea Party Supporters Disapprove of Boehner's Handling of Situation

Tea Party supporters have been among the most vocal participants in the current debt crisis debate. Many observers suggest that the pressure Tea Partiers are putting on newly elected freshman Republican House members is a reason the parties have not been able to strike a debt agreement so far. House Speaker Boehner is attempting to broker a deal to get the debt ceiling raised while at the same time reflecting the intense sentiments of Tea Party followers.

Boehner does slightly better among all Tea Party supporters -- 61% approval and 33% disapproval -- than he does among all Republicans -- 50% approval and 35% disapproval. These differences reflect the fact that in this survey, less than half (46%) of Republicans identify as Tea Party supporters, and that this group has a much different view of Boehner's efforts on the debt situation than those who are not Tea Party supporters. Republicans who support the Tea Party approve of Boehner's handling of the debt situation by 65% to 30%, while Republicans who are not Tea Party supporters split evenly, 38% approve and 40% disapprove, with the rest having no opinion. This difference is significant despite the smaller sample sizes involved, and suggests that Boehner is having more trouble pleasing the moderate and liberal wing of his party than he is the conservative wing.


It is too early to determine the long-term impact of the current debt ceiling crisis on the political fortunes of President Obama, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Reid, and the other politicians who have been in the middle of the unfolding drama. The current short-term data suggest that to date none of those involved receive glowingly positive reviews from the American public. More Americans disapprove than approve of the way Obama, Boehner, and Reid have each handled the situation.

Obama does better than the other two, based in large part on the high approval rating he receives from his fellow Democrats. Boehner receives significantly less loyalty from Republicans, half of whom approve of his handling of the situation. This no doubt reflects the current divisions within the Republican Party, with conservatives and Tea Party supporters pressing for a rigid stance against compromise and tax increases, while other Republicans are more inclined to push for a settlement with Obama and the Democrats. At this point, the former group is the most supportive of Boehner, which suggests that he faces more problems from the moderate wing of his party than from the conservative Tea Party wing. The fact that as many Republicans who do not support the Tea Party say they disapprove of how Boehner is handling the situation as say they approve highlights his leadership challenges.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 27, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,007 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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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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