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.