Obama faces deeply divided nation in State of the Union address

February 12, 2013

A fragile majority of Americans give President Obama's second term agenda positive initial marks in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, even as stubborn partisan division and disaffection with Washington politics define public sentiment ahead of Tuesday's State of the Union address.


President Obama shakes hands during his 2012 State of the Union address. AP photo

Just over half of the public (52 percent) has a favorable view of the policies Obama will pursue in his second term, while 43 percent regard them unfavorably. Fully six in 10 hold "strongly" positive (30 percent) or strongly negative views  (30 percent) of Obama's policy agenda -- a remarkable level of passion given that it is less than one month since his second term inauguration.

While the news is barely good for Obama, Republicans in Congress fare much worse. Fewer than four in 10 (36 percent) give positive marks to the GOP's policy plans over the next four years while more than half, 55 percent, offer unfavorable reviews.

Obama will almost certainly declare the "strong" state of the union in Tuesday's speech but a majority of people are unhappy about our politics; 56 percent of the public has an unfavorable view of the country's political system, including majorities of both Republicans and independents.

Obama's second-term policies are a unifying force for Democrats and Republicans. Nearly nine in 10 Democrats (87 percent) are favorable towards Obama's agenda, while 86 percent of Republicans oppose it. And while seven in 10 Republicans are "strongly unfavorable" towards Obama's second term plans, less than half as many (32 percent) are "strongly favorable" toward policies of congressional Republicans.

Americans without a rooting interest are jaded by the process. Nearly one-fifth of the public (19 percent) has unfavorable views of both Obama's and Republicans' policies, including more than a quarter of political independents. Among those who reject both agendas, over three quarters have an unfavorable view of the country's political system.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted February 6-10 among a random national sample of 1,021 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full survey is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Click here to see question wording, results and interactive breakdowns.

Clement and Craighill are pollsters with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Jon Cohen, Director of Polling, contributed to this report.

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Aaron Blake · February 12, 2013