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Obama Gets High Marks

A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that Americans think Barack Obama is handling the transition well and picking an outstanding team.  Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones:

Americans widely approve of Barack Obama’s decisions, announced on Monday, to name Hillary Clinton secretary of state and to ask Robert Gates to stay on as secretary of defense.

[…]

During the recent period of speculation that Obama would appoint his chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination as his secretary of state, a Gallup poll conducted Nov. 18 found a majority of Americans (57%) in favor of him making that choice. Now that he has officially named Clinton as the nation’s top diplomatic official, the percentage that supports the move has risen closer to 70%.

Support for the Gates appointment is higher than for the Clinton selection primarily because Republicans are much more likely to approve of Gates serving as secretary of defense than they are of Clinton as secretary of state. That, no doubt, reflects the fact that Gates has served under Republican presidents in the past, including both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. Democrats are slightly more likely to approve of the Clinton choice, but think highly of both choices.

[…]

At a more basic level, 78% of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling his presidential transition, with only 13% disapproving. A majority of Democrats (94%), independents (79%), and Republicans (57%) say they approve.

That overall 78% approval rating compares favorably to the reaction Americans had to George W. Bush’s transition, for which an average of 63% approved in January 2001, and Bill Clinton’s transition, when an average of 66% approved from November 1992 through January 1993.

Two things to keep in mind here. First, Bush came into office much less popular. He’d narrowly lost the national popular vote and won the Electoral College after a bitter, drawn out battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Obama, by contrast, won, by modern U.S. standards, a landslide victory.

Second, the average American has no idea whether any of these people are qualified beyond what they’re told in the press. That’s not meant as an insult, simply that the vast majority of these appointees operate outside the daily limelight. Only wonks, for example, have ever heard of Timothy Geithner or Eric Holder or Susan Rice. Only wonks and Marines have likely heard of Jim Jones. Even Bob Gates is much less well known than his predecessor.   Only Hillary Clinton is truly well known to the public.

So, what this poll tells us is that people like Barack Obama and that he’s getting good press coverage for his picks.  Which we knew before the survey was taken.

Now, I happen to agree with the conventional wisdom.  Obama has handled his transition with extreme professionalism and competence and assembled his key team members in record time.

On the economic side, I’m only ahead of the general public in that I read more than most.  Summers and Geithner are undoubtedly brilliant and qualified.  Summers, though, presided as Treasury Secretary over much of the deregulation that is now being widely condemned (unjustly, I think) and Geitner is the head of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, seat of the collapse of the financial system.   Since I fully expect the U.S. economy to recover in short order regardless of who’s in charge, I suspect that they’ll be feted as geniuses when the business cycle rebounds.

On national security, where I have substantial experience, I’m quite pleased.  I’ve got concerns about Clinton at State but she’s undeniably smart, hard working, and networked.   I couldn’t be happier with his pick of Jones as National Security Advisor and think keeping Gates on as SECDEF is both wise public policy and shrewd politics.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Since I fully expect the U.S. economy to recover in short order regardless of who’s in charge, I suspect that they’ll be feted as geniuses when the business cycle rebounds.

    I think that depends entirely on just how tightly-coupled the real economy is to the financial sector. If it’s tightly-coupled, then I think we’re in for a long, hard time.

    If it’s not that tightly-coupled, then much of the concern being expressed (at least in body language) by Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke is ill-founded and the WPA and CCC-style stimulus packages being proposed are more likely to hurt than help.

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  2. odograph says:

    Your post reads a little like Obama’s approval is just “happening” to him, and Bush’s fall in approval just “happened” to him too. 😉

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  3. odograph says:

    On the economic side, I’m only ahead of the general public in that I read more than most. Summers and Geithner are undoubtedly brilliant and qualified. Summers, though, presided as Treasury Secretary over much of the deregulation that is now being widely condemned (unjustly, I think) and Geitner is the head of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, seat of the collapse of the financial system. Since I fully expect the U.S. economy to recover in short order regardless of who’s in charge, I suspect that they’ll be feted as geniuses when the business cycle rebounds.

    You read it here first: They’ve failed, and doomed their discipline to just-deserved disrespect.

    This will be a 10 year recovery.

    OK, that was a fearless prediction. Still, there is a lot to clean up, and baring something crazy and technology driven (free fusion energy) I don’t see it happening fast.

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  4. Bithead says:

    So, what this poll tells us is that people like Barack Obama and that he’s getting good press coverage for his picks. Which we knew before the survey was taken.

    What we’re measuring here, in the end is the combo of the job the press did of selling their boy to the voter, and the job they’re doing of selling his picks in the wake of that PR wave.

    Indeed, the reporting on the numbers, is itself a sales pitch aimed at the continuance of that PR wave.

    The first choices of consequence, though, such as what Schuler lists… and I’ll guarantee you, will cause those numbers to go down like a stone.

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  5. odograph says:

    Correlation versus causality, Bit.

    (InTrade has a bet on Obama’s March ’09 approval rating … not sure if you can short it.)

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  6. Bithead says:

    You’re talking about public perception here, Odo.
    As has been demonstrated often enough with Bush’s sagging numbers, mere fact often doesn’t help the public perception of a political figure.

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  7. odograph says:

    LOL. Bush was an excellent President.

    (Spoken as “I am an excellent driver.”)

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  8. Bithead says:

    Whatever our mutual objections were to the man, he most certainly was not what the PR put up by a left-leaning press made him out to be, which is the point.

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  9. tom p says:

    Whatever our mutual objections were to the man, he most certainly was not what the PR put up by a left-leaning press made him out to be, which is the point.

    On this you are right bit… he was assuredly worse.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    Your post reads a little like Obama’s approval is just “happening” to him, and Bush’s fall in approval just “happened” to him too. 😉

    Bush’s cabinet picks were, on paper, superb and on par with Obama’s. The difference was the circumstances under which they took office.

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  11. John425 says:

    I think Obama’s selection of Hillary was merely a political ploy to strip her of her base. As a decidedly unscientific poll, ask readers to estimate the number of days per month that Hillary will be allowed to set foot in the US proper. Will Obama keep her abroad 29 days per month? 25 days? 18 days? etc.

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  12. Bithead says:

    On this you are right bit… he was assuredly worse.

    Thanks for providing proof to my point about the seperation of facts and perception in so eloquent a fashion.

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  13. With all due respect, we’re still in the media phase where Obama gets credit for exhaling.

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  14. tom p says:

    Thanks for providing proof to my point about the seperation of facts and perception in so eloquent a fashion.

    “Hi Pot! I’m Kettle! You’re black!”

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  15. tom p says:

    With all due respect, we’re still in the media phase where Obama gets credit for exhaling.

    That’s because the rest of us are still holding our breath waiting for Bush to leave.

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  16. rodney dill says:

    Obama Gets High Marks

    I wonder where they’ll be after he actually has to do anything.

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  17. That’s because the rest of us are still holding our breath waiting for Bush to leave.

    BAS – Bush Asphyxiation Syndrome. The lack of oxygen can explain a lot of things.

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  18. Drew says:

    “Since I fully expect the U.S. economy to recover in short order regardless of who’s in charge, I suspect that they’ll be feted as geniuses when the business cycle rebounds.”

    If true, it would evidence the lie of its current public portrayal, no doubt for political purposes. That said, for the benefit of the Average Joe we should set politics aside and hope recovery is just around the corner, but I am dubious.

    In the last three recessions the country (well, the consumer) benefitted from increases in asset classes. In 1982 the the death of inflation (so, cash). In 1991, a rising equity market. In 2001, a rising housing market.

    Today?

    Seems to me Schuler’s got it right. In the absence of an asset class giving consumers a sense they are wealthier, it is the strength of the nexus between the financial (debt capacity, really) and goods economy is the key.

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  19. ken says:

    Eighteen months ago this went viral:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKsoXHYICqU

    Since then it was clear that Obama was fated to win the election and that he would enjoy wide latitude in governing just as he did in campaigning. Some people are blessed with charisma. Some people are blessed with intelligence. Obama is blessed with both. It should be apparent to all by now that we could not have chosen a better person as our President than Barack Obama.

    Expectations are very high. But he is still just human and mistakes will be made. But will that affect his popularity? I don’t think so.

    If he makes a few mistakes it wil not cancel out his charisma or brains or style that makes him so attractive. Besides, who would replace him?

    As long as he remains honest his charactoristic charisma and intelligence will see him through his mistakes and he will remain popular.

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  20. rodney dill says:

    It should be apparent to all by now that we could not have chosen a better person as our President than Barack Obama.

    There are no results or evidence to back up this judgement. There may be 6 months or a year down the road, but all we have right now are peoples’ expectations.

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  21. Rodney, come on, this isn’t an argument about facts, but one of TRUTH! You’d better get with the program and quick.

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  22. Gippergal says:

    Taking approval rating polls before the Inauguration is a pretty safe method. Further, it’s a limited question garnering a limited response. Do I, overall, support his picks? In general, yes. But do I support the policies that he’s vocalized in the past, that motivated the liberal base and propelled him into orbit alongside other, more experienced leftist illuminati from Washington? No. So my response is, “all things considered – I think he’s made savvy choices.” All things considered.

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  23. Drew says:

    Ken’s comment is a sad (but probably true) commentary on the power of propaganda, er, the “media” and of the laziness of sheep, er, the American electorate.

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  24. ken says:

    Rodney,

    The point of my comment is simply to point out that Barrack Obama enjoys immense popularity largely because of his personal characteristics and that whatever he does as president these personal characteristics will serve him well in maintaining good relations with the American people.

    I guess you could say he is armored in charisma. But more than just that I think the American people also recognize his intelligence and so will more willing to defer to his judgment in what might otherwise be controversial issues.

    Remember how much the people loved Clinton? He too had charisma and brains. It didn’t matter how much the press savaged him or what the republicans did to destroy him, he had higher approval ratings at the lowest moments of this presidency (the Lewinsky scandal) than did Reagan at his highest moment.

    Obama will be treated similarly by the people. And unlike Clinton, the press is not out to get him and the Republicans are too busy licking self afflicted wounds to take him on aggressively.

    I suspect he will have untill the midterm elections before the opposition starts having any success changing anyones mind about Obama.

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  25. anjin-san says:

    The first choices of consequence, though, such as what Schuler lists… and I’ll guarantee you, will cause those numbers to go down like a stone.

    This guarantee coming from the rocket scientist who spent the days before the election telling us that McCain was really winning and reports to the contrary we BS from the media.

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  26. anjin-san says:

    Ken’s comment is a sad (but probably true) commentary on the power of propaganda, er, the “media” and of the laziness of sheep, er, the American electorate.

    Or, it is possible that a lot of folks just have genuine regard for Obama. Given the crop of “leaders” the GOP has produced over the last 20 years, it is easy to see why this might seem confusing from your prospective.

    Time will tell about Obama. But it is worth noting that last night Bill Bennett said “Based on what I have seen so far, he is ready for prime time”.

    That is a pretty high bar for Obama to have cleared…

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  27. Bithead says:

    This guarantee coming from the rocket scientist who spent the days before the election telling us that McCain was really winning and reports to the contrary we BS from the media.

    Keep this one on hand, folks.
    It will present an interesting reminder in 6 month’s time.

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  28. tom p says:

    BAS – Bush Asphyxiation Syndrome. The lack of oxygen can explain a lot of things.

    HA! I like that Charles. Do you think it explains “Heckuvajob, Brownie”? or, “The fundamentals of the economy are sound”? or how about “Mission Accomplished”? or…

    BAS… the one size excuse to fit all mistakes! (can’t wait for OAS)

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  29. tom p says:

    That is a pretty high bar for Obama to have cleared…

    Anjin, as Rodney said,

    I wonder where they’ll be after he actually has to do anything.

    After 8 yrs of GWB, the only way Obama would be getting low marks is if he appointed Fidel Castro for Sec of Labor, Hugo Chavez for Sec of Treasury, Putin for DoD, al Sadr for SoS…

    Short of that he was going to get 55-60% np matter what. Going centrist with his picks as he is, who is surprised at 70+%? Again, the proof is in the pudding. The #s will harden as he begins to actually govern.

    Ooops, wait a minute, considering the vacuum in present residence within the WH, he already is!! (a sad but true comment of what is presently happening)

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  30. anjin-san says:

    Keep this one on hand, folks.
    It will present an interesting reminder in 6 month’s time.

    In the meantime, why don’t you tell us a little more about how you were telling everyone McCain was really winning 2 days before the election and Obama’s lead was a media snow job? That is interesting right now.

    Something tells me you don’t really want to discuss that :)

    Really bitsy, you are making a fearless forcast. Obama’s numbers will go down at some point. Wow. Really some penetrating insight there.

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  31. HA! I like that Charles. Do you think it explains “Heckuvajob, Brownie”? or, “The fundamentals of the economy are sound”? or how about “Mission Accomplished”? or…

    BAS… the one size excuse to fit all mistakes! (can’t wait for OAS)

    tom p, RIF (Reading is Fundamental), or maybe CIF (Comprehension is Fundamental).

    I don’t think it explains those phrases at all. In fact, I think your response has nothing to do with my comment other than the fact that you blockquoted it. You’re the one who said you are holding your breath and therefore suffering from BAS, not Bush, not me, and not anyone else.

    As for your impatience for OAS (presumably Obama Asphyxiation Syndrome), somehow I don’t really envision too many people trying to hold their breath until he is gone from office, unless you are tlaking about yourself. Maybe the BAS is taking a toll. Like the weight trainers always say, don’t forget to breath.

    I fully expect some people to have ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome) but I don’t think I have that, and I hope you won’t think any and all opposition to Obama’s plans or policies is caused by it or you will either be still suffering from the apparently permanent after-effects of BAS or OAS or perhaps that other ODS (Obama Deification Syndrome), like Ken above who wants seems to want a savior more than a president.

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  32. tom p says:

    tom p, RIF (Reading is Fundamental), or maybe CIF (Comprehension is Fundamental).

    Or maybe LoSoHS (Lack of Sense of Humor Syndrome)?

    You’re the one who said you are holding your breath and therefore suffering from BAS…

    Actually what I said was:

    That’s because the rest of US are still holding our breath waiting for Bush to leave.

    Charles, it is not often you and I agree, but I always welcome your point of view, and what is more, I always appreciate your sense of humor. I found the BAS comment honestly funny, and in that light, I went with it, and took it to one of it’s extremes.

    As to the rest, lighten up Charles. I take very little of what I say here serious. In a hundred years, who’s gonna care? In a hundred years, nobody who actually knew me will still be alive (my name will remain on several maps, but what is that?) and I (the actual human being) will be forgotten. A name on a gravestone… So what?

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  33. rodney dill says:

    But more than just that I think the American people also recognize his intelligence and so will more willing to defer to his judgment in what might otherwise be controversial issues.

    At least the ones unwilling to think for themselves will defer to his judgement on issues.

    I suspect he will have untill the midterm elections before the opposition starts having any success changing anyones mind about Obama.

    Obama’s own actions will have more impact, whether for good or bad, than anything the opposition says about him.

    It should be apparent to all by now that we could not have chosen a better person as our President than Barack Obama.

    If your point doesn’t ‘simply’ include this point of view, then you shouldn’t have explicitly stated it. If you choose to stand-by it then my response to it still applies.

    If he makes a few mistakes it wil not cancel out his charisma or brains or style that makes him so attractive

    For writing so highly of him why do you feel the need to hedge your bet.

    Besides, who would replace him?

    We have a lot of Senators on both sides of the aisle with two years experience in.

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  34. anjin-san says:

    At least the ones unwilling to think for themselves will defer to his judgement on issues.

    Who do you represent? The people who think for themselves, poorly?

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