Public ratings of Pres. Barack Obama on the nation's top issues in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll continue a pattern that has popped up in each of our polls since his inauguration in January: Obama's overall job approval is significantly higher than his ratings on individual issues.
One month in, his 68 percent job approval rating stood well above his 60 percent rating on the economy and 64 percent approval on filling his cabinet and other top administration positions. In March, readings on the economy (60 percent), federal budget deficit (52 percent) and international affairs (62 percent) were all below an overall approval rating of 66 percent. And 100 days in, Obama topped his 69 percent overall rating with 71 percent approval on handling the situation in Iraq, but ratings on the remaining 12 issues were lower than his overall approval.
The president's diplomatic efforts are the only ones that have consistently come close to his overall rating in these first months in office, perhaps on the strength of high expectations. In a December Post-ABC poll, 77 percent said that as president, Obama would be able to "improve America's image in the world." Since taking charge, his approval rating on handling "international affairs" has remained above 60 percent.
The trend is striking, but it is not necessarily unique. Looking back at Post-ABC polling conducted in the early months of the presidencies of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, neither man consistently outpaced his approval rating on the domestic bellwethers of the economy, the budget or health care. But they did manage to fare well on international affairs broadly, and Clinton frequently topped his overall rating with approval of his handling of individual crises, such as the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia and Haiti. Bush twice exceeded his overall approval rating with his handling of education as he began the push for the "No Child Left Behind" act.
Obama's marks may lag behind his overall approval, but that doesn't mean he's doing poorly. He scores majority approval on all but two of the issues tested in the new poll, and notches approval ratings of 50 percent or higher among political independents on all but one - the situation involving the big U.S. automakers. Among all adults, just over a quarter (26 percent) said they approve of Obama on each of the five issues about which they were asked (each respondent was asked about the economy, health care and a random selection of three of the remaining issues rather than the full list), 41 percent said that they approve of his handling on at least four of five issues tested.
Among those who approve of the way Obama is handling his job generally, 31 percent disapprove of his handling of the situation involving the Big Three automakers and 24 percent disapprove of the way he's managed the federal budget deficit. More than four in 10 who approve of his overall performance break ranks and disapprove of his handling of at least one issue.
Approval ratings on each of the issues tested, plus breakdowns by party are below.
Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Obama is handling [item]? (% approve)
---Party ID---- All Dem Rep Ind International affairs 61 82 21 67 Threat of terrorism 57 78 27 55 Economy 56 81 23 54 Global warming 54 78 29 52 Health care 53 80 17 50 Situation with Iran 52 65 35 53 Federal budget deficit 48 70 14 50 Situation involving the big U.S. automakers 45 67 19 39