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Syria Yet to Affect How Americans Rate Obama on Key Issues

Syria Yet to Affect How Americans Rate Obama on Key Issues

Approval of Obama's handling of foreign affairs unchanged from June

PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama's job approval rating on handling foreign affairs remains low, at 42%, although no lower than it was in June or August of this year. Thirty-one percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of the situation in Syria, the first time Gallup has measured the president's approval rating on this issue.

Recent Trend in Barack Obama’s Job Approval Overall and on Issues

Obama's handling of foreign affairs is particularly relevant at this juncture, given the focus in Congress and the news media on the president's proposed plan to initiate military action in Syria in response to that country's alleged use of chemical weapons. Gallup polling last week showed that Americans oppose military action in that country by a 15-percentage-point margin, and Obama's low rating on handling Syria no doubt reflects the public's disagreement with his stance on the necessity for such military action.

But Obama's controversial position on the situation in Syria has not, in the short term, affected his public standing on his handling of foreign affairs. His approval on this dimension has been stable since June, although it remains below his overall job approval rating (45%) in the same poll. Obama's approval rating on foreign affairs has fluctuated over his time in office, ranging from a high of 61% just after he took office, in March 2009, to the low of 40% last month.

Trend: Barack Obama Approval on Economy and Foreign Affairs

Obama's approval rating on handling the economy, at 42%, is up slightly from 35% in August and the same as his June rating. His rating on this issue has been at least marginally higher in recent measures compared with the low point of 26% recorded in August 2011, and is above his approval rating on the economy from January 2010 to August 2012.

No Change in Obama's Image on Specific Characteristics

Americans' views of the president on a number of character dimensions also appear largely unaffected by the situation in Syria. Between 53% and 56% of Americans say the president "displays good judgment in a crisis," "understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives," "is honest and trustworthy," and "is a strong and decisive leader." Meanwhile, 47% say Obama "can manage the government effectively" and 38% say he "has a clear plan for solving the country's problems."

Recent Trend in Barack Obama’s Image on Selected Dimensions

From a longer-term perspective, Obama's image on the leadership dimension has dropped by 20 points since April of his first year in office, but there has been little change since 2011. His image on having a clear plan for solving the nation's problems-- a dimension on which presidents usually score lower -- has likewise been quite steady since 2011.

Trend in Barack Obama’s Image on “Leader” and “Clear Plan” Dimensions

Gallup has asked Americans about Obama's displaying "good judgment in a crisis" only twice -- in the current survey and in June of this year, and the two readings are virtually identical.


President Obama's current high-profile and controversial proposal for U.S. involvement in Syria has -- so far -- had little effect on his image in Americans' eyes. Although he has a low approval rating for handling the Syrian situation in particular, his rating on handling foreign affairs has not moved since June. Additionally, the public's perceptions of him on a series of key characteristics relating to leadership and government management have not changed in recent months. Obama's job approval rating in Gallup Daily tracking is, however, currently 43%, down slightly from averages in the mid-40s in August, and slightly lower than his 45% overall approval rating in the Sept. 5-8 survey.

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 Sept. 5-8, 2013, with a random sample of 1,510 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 ±3 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% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone 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, and cellphone mostly). 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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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