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Obama Gets Low Marks for His Handling of Iran

Obama Gets Low Marks for His Handling of Iran

Story Highlights

  • Only one in three Americans approve of his handling of Iran
  • Approval of handling of race relations ticks down below 50%
  • Though improved, approval of handling of immigration still low

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Only one in three Americans approve of President Barack Obama's handling of the situation in Iran -- his lowest rating of eight issues measured in a new Gallup survey. The president's policy toward Iran has been a major focus as he tries to drum up support for the multi-national agreement to limit Iran's nuclear capabilities that Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker. Obama earns his highest marks on race relations, education and climate change, though he does not receive majority approval on any.

Approval Ratings of President Obama's Handling of Issues

Obama's overall approval rating in the poll is 47%. As such, he is rated better for doing his job overall than he is for handling any specific issue, though some of the differences in ratings are within the margin of error. That includes a 41% approval rating for handling the economy and 39% approval on foreign affairs.

These data are from an Aug. 5-9 Gallup poll, conducted as Congress debates the Iran nuclear deal, which has challenged the usual Democratic allegiances the president has on the hill. As recently as February, Americans gave Iran the lowest favorable rating of 22 countries, and a strong majority felt Iran's development of nuclear weapons posed a "critical" threat to the U.S.

Consistent with partisans' views on other issues, most Democrats, 56%, approve of Obama's handling of the situation in Iran, contrasted with a small minority of Republicans (10%). These ratings among rank-and-file partisans are consistent with the views of the parties' elected representatives -- as Republicans are nearly unanimous in their opposition to the deal with Iran, while most Democrats are supportive.

Approval Ratings of President Obama's Handling of Situation in Iran, by Party

Race Relations Approval Down

While race relations remains the issue Obama receives the greatest approval on (46%), this is down five percentage points from when Gallup last measured it in 2013. It is unclear to what extent his race relations approval rating has been affected by the renewed protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Protests began on the Aug. 9 anniversary of Michael Brown's death, by which time most interviewing on the poll had finished. His approval rating on race relations did not appear to differ in interviews conducted after Aug. 9 compared with those earlier in the field period. The situation escalated after the poll was completed.

Aside from Obama's handling of Iran, his approval is low on immigration (36%) -- which, despite this, is up four points from the prior reading from August 2014.

About four in 10 Americans approve of the president's performance on the economy and foreign affairs -- similar to their approval on these issues in February. His foreign affairs approval rating is among the lowest of his administration, though it is improved from last fall, when it was 31%. Obama's economic approval rating is essentially the same as the average throughout his presidency.

Approval Ratings of President Obama's Handling of the Economy and Foreign Affairs

For most of his presidency, Obama has had higher approval ratings on foreign affairs than on the economy. That may reflect the fact that there were not many notable foreign policy challenges earlier in his presidency. While the economy has improved in recent years, the U.S. has faced a more challenging international environment, including the rise of ISIS and increasing tension with Russia.

Bottom Line

While Obama's overall approval rating remains improved from where it was in late 2013 and 2014, it has been difficult for him to earn majority public approval on even a single issue. To a large degree, that may be a result of being president at a time of high political polarization, with a very small percentage of Republicans giving him positive ratings on anything he has done.

Amid high-stakes congressional debate over Iran, a mere third of Americans approve of Obama's handling of the situation in the country. Meanwhile, at home, racial unrest has taken hold of the nation's attention and could jeopardize his standing on race relations, one of the issues he has received a majority approval rating on in the past.

If Congress signs off on the nuclear deal with Iran, it is possible that Obama's approval rating on that front could improve. But if Congress votes the deal down, Obama's leadership will have suffered a major blow that could further diminish his rating on Iran, and perhaps his overall job performance rating.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted August 5-9, 2015, with a random sample of 1,011 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

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