Video: Public overwhelmingly approves of Obama

By Deputy political director
NBC News
updated 1/14/2009 6:32:18 PM ET 2009-01-14T23:32:18

A solid plurality of the American public supports the economic stimulus plan that President-elect Barack Obama has proposed, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

But the public also is concerned that the stimulus’ price tag might be too expensive and would increase the U.S. deficit.

“They want to do something and want to see it done,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “But what they’re warning [Obama] collectively is — be careful.”

Obama’s stimulus package, which his team estimates will cost some $775 billion, includes:

  • Distributing $500 in tax credits to individuals (and $1,000 to families)
  • Providing money for shovel-ready construction projects
  • Increasing production of renewable energy
  • Expanding unemployment benefits and government-assisted health insurance.

According to the poll, 43 percent believe the stimulus is a good idea, compared to 27 percent who think it’s a bad one, and 24 percent who don't have an opinion.

Popular details in the stimulus
The individual parts of the stimulus are much more popular.

Eighty-nine percent support the creation of new jobs through increased production of renewable energy (as well as making public buildings and schools more energy efficient). And 85 percent think it’s a good idea to generate jobs through the repair and construction of roads and bridges.

In addition, 67 percent approve of the the tax cuts in the stimulus plan, and 65 percent agree with the expansion of unemployment insurance and government-assisted health insurance.

This support isn’t too surprising given that nearly three-fourths of Americans believe that the current economic recession will continue for at least another year — and perhaps even longer.

By comparison, 4 percent believe that the recession is almost over or will be in the next six months.

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Yet there is a warning sign for Obama in this poll: 60 percent say they’re concerned that the government will spend too much money in trying to stimulate the economy, ultimately increasing the size of the deficit.

McInturff speculates that negative opinions regarding the cost and implementation of the government’s earlier financial bailout are making the public a bit gun-shy about the size of the stimulus package.

“Right now, the Obama economic stimulus is wrapped around perceptions about the bailout.”

Obama’s honeymoon continues
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll — taken of 1,007 adults (101 reached by cell phone) from Jan. 9-12, and which has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points — comes after a few bumps in Obama’s otherwise smooth transition to power.

Those bumps include the allegations that Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was attempting to sell Obama’s Senate seat; Blagojevich’s surprise appointment of Roland Burris to the seat, setting off a Senate battle over whether Democratic leaders would seat him; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s withdrawal as commerce secretary nominee after links to an alleged pay-to-play scheme surfaced.

But these haven’t stopped Obama from continuing to enjoy a honeymoon with the public since winning the presidential contest last November.

In the poll, 71 percent say they approve of the way Obama is handling his transition — a number virtually unchanged from last month’s survey.

Obama's new Cabinet?Also, 66 percent view Obama positively, versus just 14 percent who see him in a negative light. And while 55 percent say they like Obama personally and approve of most of his policies, an additional 22 percent say they like him personally but disapprove of his policies.

“He has gotten his honeymoon before he has taken his vows of office,” says Hart, the Democratic pollster.

Yet Hart also points to a few issues where Obama seems to have “narrow running room.” For example, 52 percent say they’re concerned that Obama will go too far in providing financial aid and loans to corporations that are facing bankruptcy; 49 percent are concerned that he will make the health-care system large and too bureaucratic; and another 49 percent are concerned that he will raise taxes.

Bush’s unpopular exit
But while Obama is enjoying that honeymoon, President Bush is exiting with the lowest approval rating for a president leaving office (with the exception of Richard Nixon), according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal pollsters.

The survey shows Bush’s approval rating at 27 percent. What’s more, only 31 percent view him positively, while 58 percent see him in a negative light.

By comparison, when Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, left office in January 1993, his numbers were essentially reversed — 52 percent positive, 27 percent negative.

“Historically, presidents on the way out get some kind of glow,” says McInturff, the GOP pollster.

But that’s not the case with George W. Bush

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.

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