Slightly more than half the respondents — 52 percent — say Obama has accomplished “not much” or “little or nothing” as president, while 47 percent offer a positive assessment of his record. Those findings are identical to public attitudes two years ago.
The president’s ratings on a series of domestic and economic issues paint a portrait of an incumbent facing a difficult reelection campaign. Yet Obama has begun to recover from career lows in several important areas, including job creation, which is expected to be at the center of the debate in the general-election contest.
Also, Democrats are starting to feel better about the country and the economy, and they are showing renewed confidence that the president will prevail in his bid for a second term.
Obama’s political advisers have long been preparing for a more competitive campaign this year than his race against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008. That is borne out in a hypothetical matchup against Republican front-runner Mitt Romney. In that test, 47 percent support the former Massachusetts governor, and 46 percent back the president.
That nearly even split shows up repeatedly in the new poll. Obama’s job ratings are 48 percent approval and 48 percent disapproval. On questions of whether he is a strong leader, or empathetic or in sync with respondents on values, the country is closely divided.
An approval rating below 50 percent is hardly a strong starting point in an election year, but for a president whose approval had dipped as low as 42 percent last fall, returning to even is a clear improvement.
Obama spent much of the fall in a pitched battle with congressional Republicans over jobs and the economy, and he won a December face-off over a temporary extension of a payroll tax cut. In that time, his ratings improved somewhat on the issue of job creation, with 45 percent approving of his performance and 51 percent disapproving. Those are are among his best numbers on the issue in the past two years.
Public attitudes are even more stubbornly negative regarding his management of the economy in general, although there, too, assessments are better now than they were a few months ago. Much still depends on the trajectory of the economy. The unemployment rate has dipped to 8.5 percent, as four consecutive monthly declines brought an end to a more than two-year streak with the jobless rate consistently hovering around or above 9 percent.
Obama continues to receive more positive than negative reviews of his handling of international affairs in general, and most approve of his work dealing with the threat of terrorism, although here he has lost some ground from the big increase he received in the aftermath of the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden last year.