Obama's Popularity Continues Despite Faltering Economy

17 March 2009

President Barack Obama makes remarks after meeting with Senate and House budget committee chairmen, at the White House in Washington, 17 Mar 2009
President Barack Obama
Recent public opinion polls show continuing faith in President Barack Obama, despite a daily drumbeat of bad economic news. But political experts warn that the public will not remain patient forever.

Americans cannot get away from the bad economic news - whether it's on television, the Internet or radio.

It is a daily barrage of people losing their jobs.

"All of a sudden one day, they walked in [and] said, 'Come on down here, gave us our blue packet.' And we got about two months severance pay, and that was it," said a woman.

And in other cases, people losing their homes.

"The only thing I need right now is to get an apartment," said a man. "Get a place of my own where I have my own keys and everything. That way, I can call it home."

Responding to this daily drumbeat is a new president about to enter his third month in office.

"The American people sent us here to get things done," said Mr Obama. "And at this moment of enormous challenge, they are watching and waiting for us to lead."

Recent public opinion polls show President Barack Obama with a positive approval rating of between 59 and 65 percent.

CBS News survey director Sarah Dutton says most people believe it will take a while to turn the U.S. economy around.

"Fifty percent of Americans say that it will take President Obama one or two years to fix the economy," she said. "Another third say it is going to take three years or even longer."

Most analysts think that Americans are going to want to see some progress on the economic front sooner rather than later.

Jeremy Mayer is a presidential expert at George Mason University in Virginia.

"I think that presidents, particularly in crises, have a brief window to move because the question is: At what point do these massive problems become their fault?," he said.

Georgetown University scholar Stephen Wayne says the president is trying to strike a delicate balance as he responds to the daily ups and downs of the economy.

"And so, Obama has come in and he has had to walk a thin line because in one sense he's got to be realistic and he can't say, 'If you pass this bill, next month happy days will be here again.' On the other hand, people want hope," he said.

Mr. Obama must also contend with growing public outrage over government bailouts to companies like the insurance giant, American International Group.

Anger has spiked in the wake of revelations that some AIG executives still will be paid large bonuses.

In addition, Republicans largely oppose Mr. Obama's tax and spending plan to jump-start the economy.

"How can we have a budget that doubles the debt on our children? How can we say that we are going to raise taxes on the job creators?," said Virginia Representative Eric Cantor.

Many experts warn that public support for the president could erode unless indications of economic recovery begin to emerge soon.

But political scientist Stephen Wayne says the public has a longer view of what it will take to revive the economy.

"Obviously, if things don't turn around over a certain period of time, he'll be blamed for spending all this money with no result," he said. "But the bottom line is will things get better? Will people perceive that they are getting better? And there has been, at least within the first 50 days, some public recognition, some more hope that we see in the polling data that suggests we are moving in the right direction."

There is a largely positive public view for now, but the question is: For how much longer?  White House aides and political experts will be looking for the answer in the weeks ahead.