Americans rate Obama’s foreign policy ‘meh’


President Obama listens to a question before answering the subject on the ongoing situation in Ukraine on Monday at the White House. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Do Americans support President Obama's handling of Ukraine? Whoa there, it's a little too early to say.

But the public's lackluster view of Obama's foreign policy to date offer some clues on how the current conflict might play out. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Thursday through Sunday finds Obama receiving middling ratings for handling foreign policy as his administration heads into the Ukraine crisis. Forty-seven percent approve of the job he is doing handling international affairs and 45 percent disapprove.

At the start of his first term, more than 60 percent approved of Obama's handling of international affairs, but by 2012 those ratings had shrunk to less than 50 percent, similar to his overall job approval ratings. His marks bumped up after his reelection in late 2012, but have since receded. While lackluster, Obama receives more positive reviews for handling international affairs than the economy (43 percent approve, 54 disapprove) or implementation of the 2010 health-care reform law (38 percent to 57 percent), according to the new poll.

Obama has received far higher ratings for dealing with terrorism -- particularly the killing of Osama bin Laden -- than for dealing with conflicts that lacked a terrorism component. Pluralities disapproved of his handling of Syria and Iran earlier this year, and split on Libya in 2011; though his ratings for handling Iraq and Afghanistan have outpaced the wars' popularity overall. The standoff with Russia over Ukraine may be a separate category, but contains similar features  to hazy diplomatic situations with Syria and Iran.

The public's perception of Obama on Russian relations before the current conflict was also underwater. Last fall, a Pew Research Center poll found more Americans disapproving than approving of the way Obama has dealt with Russia -- 47 percent to 37 percent -- with a fairly high 16 percent expressing no opinion. 

The new Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted Feb. 27 to March 2 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults, including landline and cellphone-only respondents. The margin of sampling error for overall results is 3.5 percentage points.

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

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