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President Obama is benefiting from remarkably high levels of optimism and confidence among Americans about his leadership, providing him with substantial political clout as he confronts the nation’s economic challenges and opposition from nearly all Republicans in Congress, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
A majority of people surveyed in both parties said Mr. Obama was striving to work in a bipartisan way, but most faulted Republicans for their response to the president, saying the party had objected to the $787 billion economic stimulus plan for political reasons. Most said Mr. Obama should pursue the priorities he campaigned on, the poll found, rather than seek middle ground with Republicans.
Mr. Obama will deliver his first address to Congress on Tuesday evening against a backdrop of deep economic anxiety among the public, with worries spanning party, class and regional divides. A majority of Americans, 55 percent, say they are just making ends meet, with more than 6 in 10 concerned that someone in their household might lose his job in the next year.
Americans are under no illusions that the country’s problems will be resolved quickly, but the poll suggested that they will be patient when it comes to the economy, with most saying it would be years before significant improvement.
A month into Mr. Obama’s term, with his first big accomplishments, setbacks and political battles behind him, more than three-quarters of the people polled said they were optimistic about the next four years with him as president. Similar percentages said that they thought he was bringing real change to the way things were done in Washington and that they had confidence in his ability to make the right decisions about the economy.
The aura of good will surrounding Mr. Obama at this stage of his presidency is similar to the one that benefited Ronald Reagan as he led the nation out of economic gloom.
With a job approval rating of 63 percent, Mr. Obama is in a strong position to sell his economic policies. Yet the poll also captured skepticism about how effective his plans will prove to be in addressing the deep recession, as well as a strain of populism that could test his ability to retain public support for efforts to prop up key sectors of the economy.
At a moment when some economists are talking openly about the possibility of nationalizing banks, a majority of poll respondents said that so far, the administration’s bailout plans for financial institutions would benefit bankers, not all Americans. An even wider majority said the struggling automotive companies, which are seeking billions of dollars in additional loans from the government and which are shedding tens of thousands of workers, should not receive any more taxpayer money to help them survive. And while there is a strong belief that government should help homeowners avoid foreclosure, people are evenly divided over whether the plan announced last week is fair.
“The government doesn’t step up and help other industries, so why should they help the banks and the auto companies?” Mr. Margie Rowe, 62, a Democrat from Ahoskie, N.C., said in an interview after participating in the poll. “It’s not fair. Our taxpayer money is going to bail out all these corrupt people who are making millions.”
The national telephone poll was conducted Wednesday through Sunday with 1,112 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The poll suggests that for now, Mr. Obama has been successful in explaining to Americans that the country is in for a long road to economic recovery. Over all, 53 percent of the public expect that the economic stimulus plan he signed into law last week will improve things, but half of those surveyed say it is not likely to shorten the recession and just over two-thirds expect that more money will be needed to right the economy.
Nearly all Americans are concerned that the cost of the economic programs will have significant long-term effects on future generations, with 65 percent saying they are very concerned about increasing the national debt and 26 percent suggesting they are somewhat concerned. Yet about three-quarters say they are more concerned about the current economic crisis.
“The one-time help was O.K., but I think the amount they are asking for is unreasonable,” Mr. Priscilla Felknor, 67, a Republican from Dandridge, Tenn., said in an interview after participating in the poll.
Most Americans said the president was trying to make good on his promise to bridge the partisan divide. About three-quarters, including 6 in 10 Republicans, said Mr. Obama had been trying to work with Republicans. But only 3 in 10 Americans said Republicans were doing the same.
On the economic stimulus plan, 63 percent of poll respondents said Republicans opposed the legislation for political reasons, not policy ones. Seventy-nine percent said Republicans should now be working in a bipartisan manner rather than holding fast with their policies.
But 56 percent of those surveyed said Mr. Obama’s priority should be following the policies he proposed during the campaign last year, rather than working with Republicans.
Rosemary Wedel, a 65-year-old Republican from Richmond, Tex., who participated in the poll, said in a follow-up interview that she had not voted for Mr. Obama last fall, but that she approved of how he had performed in his first month in office.
“I think it’s going to cost us more,” Mrs. Wedel said, “but I trust his political savvy.”
The poll found that the public’s widespread concern about the economy remained high, though now it is focused considerably more on jobs than on other dimensions of the economy, like the home mortgage crisis. Forty percent of those polled cited jobs and unemployment as the most important economic problem facing the country, up substantially from 11 percent last March, when fuel costs were the greatest concern.
Mr. Obama’s approval rating is about 10 percentage points higher than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton were at this early stage of their presidencies. His job approval rating of 63 percent includes 88 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans.
The White House is reviewing many practices of the Bush administration, including the barring of photographs of the coffins carrying soldiers killed in Iraq. Mr. Obama has yet to offer an opinion on the matter, but the poll found that 69 percent of Americans would like to see the policy reversed.
— New York Times News Service
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