PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans rate the way President Barack Obama is handling the fiscal cliff talks much better than they rate the job congressional leaders -- whether identified by name or generically -- are doing on the same issue. Even though Obama's approval rating is best, it still is below the majority level.
These results are based on a Dec. 15-16 USA Today/Gallup poll. Gallup has tracked approval of President Obama and the leaders in Congress for the last three weeks. Obama has always fared better than generic congressional leaders, with little change in the approval rating of each since early December.
The current poll is the first that asked Americans to rate the job Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are doing specifically. Both Boehner's and Reid's disapproval ratings are twice as high as their approval ratings, though at least one in four Americans do not have an opinion on how they are handling the talks.
Americans are more likely to offer an opinion on how the party congressional leaders, generically, are doing, which results in higher approval and disapproval ratings than for the leaders identified by name.
Obama's 48% fiscal cliff approval rating is a bit lower than his overall job approval rating, which averaged 52% in Dec. 10-16 Gallup Daily tracking.
Republicans Not Overly Positive About Their Leaders' Fiscal Cliff Performance
Republicans, including independents who lean to the Republican Party, are about equally likely to disapprove (40%) as to approve (41%) of the job Boehner is doing, a weak reading for a leader of one's preferred party. Republicans are a little more positive than negative -- 52% approve, 43% disapprove -- toward Republican leaders in Congress generically.
It is not clear from the data why Republicans are divided in their views of Boehner's handling of the negotiations. It could be because of a lack of clear progress on the issue to date, with no agreement imminent, or because they want Boehner to stand firm on Republican principles in the negotiations with Obama and the Democrats, or because they want him to compromise more with the Democrats.
As would be expected, Republicans' evaluations of President Obama, Democratic leaders in Congress, and Reid are highly negative.
Democrats are more positive about their party leaders' handling of the fiscal cliff negotiations than Republicans are about their party leaders. Democrats' evaluations of Reid's handling of the fiscal cliff are not overly positive -- 39% approve and 30% disapprove -- but they do give him a higher net-positive rating (+9) than Republicans give Boehner (+1). Democrats are also more likely to approve, and less likely to disapprove, of Democratic leaders in Congress than Republicans are to do the same of Republican leaders in Congress.
Democrats are most positive about Obama, with 81% approving, helping explain his more positive rating among all Americans.
Americans do not give any of the key players high marks for their handling of the fiscal cliff budget negotiations, although they are most charitable in their ratings of President Obama. To date, Americans' views on the fiscal cliff have been quite stable, perhaps understandable given the lack of clear progress toward a solution. With the Jan. 1 deadline looming, and government leaders perhaps wanting to reach an agreement before the Christmas holiday, pressure for action is likely to grow.
One thing has been clear throughout the negotiations: the vast majority of Americans -- including at least two in three Republicans, independents, and Democrats -- want government leaders to compromise to reach a solution.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 15-16, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,022 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone 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, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
The questions reported here were asked of a random half-sample of respondents for two nights on the Gallup Daily tracking survey.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.