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Obama Rated Highest on Foreign Affairs, Lowest on Deficit

Obama Rated Highest on Foreign Affairs, Lowest on Deficit

PRINCETON, NJ -- President Obama earns a 39% job approval rating for his handling of the economy, similar to his ratings on the issue one year ago. Among domestic issues, Obama's rating on the economy is above only his 31% rating for handling the federal deficit. Across nine issues, Americans give Obama his highest approval ratings for handling national defense (53%), followed by foreign affairs and immigration, each at 46%.

Obama’s Job Approval Ratings on Nine Issues, February 2013

If President Obama focuses on the economy in his fourth State of the Union address Tuesday night, as news reports indicate he will do, he will be dealing with an area in which the American public gives him relatively low performance ratings. The president's 39% rating on handling the economy is essentially the same as the 38% from this time last year, although lower than the ratings of 45% and 44% he received just before and just after last November's presidential election. Obama received his lowest rating on the economy (26%) in August 2011, in the aftermath of the debt ceiling fight in Washington. Obama earned his highest economic rating, 59%, in February 2009 -- in the first measure after he took office.

Trend: Approval of President Barack Obama's Handling of the Economy

Obama receives a 51% overall job approval rating in the Feb. 7-10 World Affairs survey, meaning that the president comparatively underperforms on all but one of the specific issues measured. This could reflect strong perceived performance on issues that were not included in the survey, and may reflect Americans' broadly positive view of Obama as a person, including the consistently high "likability" image he enjoyed during the presidential campaign.

Broadly speaking, most of the president's other issue ratings are quite similar to when Gallup last measured them.

  • While defense may not be the major emphasis of Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, this is clearly an area on which the American public gives him relatively strong marks. Obama's rating on handling national defense is the same as it was last February, when it tied his rating on the environment as the highest of the 11 issues measured. National defense is now his strongest area in the current list of nine issues measured.
  • Obama's rating on handling foreign affairs, second highest on the list (along with immigration), is down only slightly from last February. Although the president's rating on the economy rose in surveys conducted around his re-election in November of last year, there was no such jump in his foreign affairs rating, which has remained roughly consistent all year.
  • The Obama administration has taken up immigration as a major focus point in recent weeks, and leaders of both parties in Congress appear to be on a pathway to possibly passing new legislation on immigration-related issues. Obama's current rating (46%) is his highest yet over the four times Gallup has measured it.
  • Americans give Obama a 44% rating on energy policy, about the same as the last measure, in February 2011.
  • After the Newtown, Conn., mass school shootings in December, Obama has enacted a series of new executive actions and has proposed new legislation designed to control gun violence. He has also deputized Vice President Joe Biden to focus much of his time on these gun-related efforts. Still, the president at this point receives a relatively modest 42% job approval rating on handling gun policy, well below his overall average and certainly not at the top of the list of current issues measured.
  • Americans' rating of Obama on taxes (41%) is roughly the same as his overall economic approval rating. A majority of Americans in recent years have approved of the type of tax hike recently imposed on those with high incomes after much support from the president.
  • Obama will be traveling on an official state visit to Israel in March, and a key issue on his agenda will certainly be finding ways to address the continuing turmoil between Israel and the Palestinians. At this point, 36% of the American people say they approve of how Obama is handling that situation. This low rating no doubt reflects general concern over the seemingly intractable problems in that region, in addition to evaluations of what Obama has and has not done to address the issues.
  • Obama gets his lowest rating for his handling of the federal budget deficit (31%). These ratings have consistently been low since 2010. This may not be surprising, given that the deficit is still large and growing, and remains one of the most important problems facing the country.

See page 2 to view the complete trends.

Partisan Gulf in Issue Ratings

Republicans' ratings of Obama on each of these nine issues are dramatically lower than Democrats' -- which fits with the generally polarized nature of the way Americans evaluate the president these days. Obama's and his predecessor George W. Bush's ratings have been among the most polarized of the post-World War II era.

The gaps in the approval ratings Republicans and Democrats give Obama are consistently large, ranging from a 54-percentage-point difference on the federal budget deficit (Democrats' rating is 61% vs. Republicans' 7%) to 65 points on the economy (75% vs. 10%). Republicans and Democrats each give Obama his highest rating on national defense (foreign affairs ties for the highest among Democrats), and both groups of partisans give him his lowest rating on handing the deficit.

Independents' ratings fall between these two groups' ratings in all instances, and generally hew to the same rank order. The range in independents' ratings, however, is larger than for either of the two partisan groups -- encompassing a 31-point spread between their 55% rating of Obama's handling of national defense and their 24% rating for handling the deficit. This contrasts with gaps of 14 and 17 points, respectively, between Republicans' and Democrats' highest and lowest ratings on the nine issues.

Obama’s Job Approval Rating on Issues, by Party ID, February 2013


President Obama will make his State of the Union address Tuesday with an overall approval rating slightly above 50%, but with approval that is below that majority threshold on a number of key issues. His rating on the economy is now at 39%, underscoring the wisdom of his expected focus on the economy and jobs. Obama's relative strengths at this point in time are national defense, along with foreign affairs and immigration, although it is unclear how much time he will devote in the speech to any of these.

Obama in most respects finds himself in a situation akin to the one he was in a year ago -- a job approval rating at roughly the 50% level, and approval ratings on issues very similar to where they are now.

Explore President Obama's approval ratings in depth and compare them with those of past presidents in the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 7-10, 2013, with a random sample of 1,015 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 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cell phone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, 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 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. 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.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]? The economy
Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]? Foreign affairs
Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]? The federal budget deficit
Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]? Immigration
Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]? Taxes
Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]? National defense
Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]? Energy policy
Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]? Gun policy
Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]? The situation in the Middle East between the Israelis and Palestinians

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