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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 11:41 AM ET, 09/08/2009

The Word on Barack Obama

Nearly eight months into Barack Obama's presidency, Americans' perceptions of him are mostly positive, but the administration's efforts at health reform inspire a more critical reaction, with more describing their feelings about the proposed changes with a negative word (43 percent) than a positive one (31 percent) according to a new Washington Post poll.

A majority in the poll (52 percent) described their feelings about Obama with a positive word, with "good" the most often mentioned word (88 people used it, out of the 1,001 surveyed). Others near the top included "okay" (53 people), "great" (44), "positive" (21), "hopeful" (17) and "satisfied" (15).

About three in 10 (31 percent) used a negative word, with "disappointed" (43), "dislike" (18), and "negative" (15) atop the list. Some used words with a more neutral connotation ("adequate" at 10 people and "ambivalent" cited by seven being the top two), and 9 percent had no opinion.

On health reform, public reaction tilts toward the negative, with a sizable 27 percent unclear or neutral on the proposals. On the positive side, rosy reactions are concentrated around the words "good" (55), "necessary" (36) and "hopeful" (17), while on the negative side, a broader array of words float to the top, including "bad" (27), "scary" (23), "terrible" (20) and "disaster" (12).

One warning sign for those Democrats working on the reform effort: among Democrats, fewer than half had a positive reaction (44 percent), while more than two-thirds of Republicans used a negative word to describe their feelings (68 percent). Nearly half of independents (48 percent) reacted negatively and just three in 10 had a positive take (30 percent).

Assessing the way Obama operates as president, more than four in 10 in the poll said Obama's time as a community organizer (44 percent) has been a bigger influence on his style in the Oval Office than his work as a teacher (14 percent) or lawyer (27 percent), and most who highlight the community organizer experience consider it a good thing (72 percent).

Obama's resume - particularly his time as a community organizer - had been a rallying cry for some in the Republican Party during last year's campaign, drawing derision from vice presidential nominee and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in her speech to the Republican National Convention: "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,'" she said, "except that you have actual responsibilities."

In the new poll, nearly four in 10 Republicans (38 percent) said Obama's experience as a community organizer had the biggest influence on his work as president, as did 48 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents. Across party lines, most who called this experience the deepest influence deemed it a good thing.

Almost two years ago, just before the Iowa caucuses jump-started his run for the Democratic nomination, more poll respondents tagged Obama as "inexperienced" than used any other single term to describe the then-candidate. This time around, that word was mentioned by a scant three people.

Complete question wording and toplines from the poll can be found here.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  11:41 AM ET, 09/08/2009

Categories:  Post Polls, Post Polls

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