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Obama Gets High Marks for 1st Month

But Survey Finds Sharp Erosion in Bipartisan Support

In the hours leading up to President Obama's address before a joint session of Congress, the Post's Jennifer Agiesta highlights poll trends reflecting national sentiment towards Obama's handling of the most pressing national issues. Audio by washingtonpost.com
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By Michael A. Fletcher and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

As President Obama prepares to address a joint session of Congress tonight, he is receiving strong reviews for his first full month in office, but deep partisan fault lines are quickly reemerging.

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Large majorities of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll support his $787 billion economic stimulus package and the recently unveiled $75 billion plan to stem mortgage foreclosures. Nearly seven in 10 poll respondents said Obama is delivering on his pledge to bring needed change to Washington, and about eight in 10 said he is meeting or exceeding their expectations. At the same time, however, the bipartisan support he enjoyed as he prepared to take office has eroded substantially amid stiff Republican opposition to his major economic initiatives.

Thirty-seven percent of Republicans now approve of how he has done his job, a sharp drop from a month ago, when 62 percent gave him good marks for his handling of the transition. Also, nearly seven in 10 Americans oppose giving $14 billion in new loans to automakers General Motors and Chrysler, something Obama is considering in an effort to prop up the ailing industry and preserve jobs.

In his speech to Congress, Obama is expected to further outline his agenda for making health care more accessible and bolstering support for alternative energy, while explaining how he envisions his actions will lift the nation's economy. The president, who spent his first weeks in office championing the huge federal outlays called for in his stimulus package, is shifting the focus to his pledge to rein in federal spending, which he has called crucial to the nation's long-term prosperity.

Almost all the poll respondents considered the size of the federal budget deficit to be a problem, with nearly six in 10 "very concerned" about it. But even so, 63 percent said additional federal action will be needed to improve the economy.

Yesterday, Obama hosted a "fiscal responsibility summit," in which 130 invitees discussed the nation's precarious long-term budget situation, which is worsening because of the runaway costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. On Thursday, Obama is scheduled to release the outline of his first budget proposal, in which he is expected to summarize plans to cut the soaring deficit in half by the end of his first term in office.

Any effort to deal with the federal entitlement programs will no doubt be influenced by public pessimism over the their long-term viability. Few Americans are convinced that the Social Security and Medicare systems are in shape to provide benefits throughout their retirements, according to the poll. Just 11 percent of those polled said they are sure Social Security will be able to pay their full benefits. Regarding Medicare, 8 percent are very confident the system will provide adequate health-care coverage.

Seniors covered by these bedrock federal programs are generally confident that both will be able to meet their needs, but those not yet old enough to be eligible are far less sanguine about their prospects. Among those 65 or older, 78 percent are very or somewhat confident that Social Security will last throughout their retirements, and 67 percent share that view about Medicare. The numbers dive to 31 percent for both programs among those ages 18 to 64, and the number who are "very confident" is less than 10 percent.

Overall, 68 percent of poll respondents approve of Obama's job performance, a finding that puts him on par with the average for the past eight presidents at this point in their tenures. Ninety percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents approve of Obama's performance. Sixty-four percent said they approve of how Obama is handling appointments to the Cabinet and other top positions in the administration, despite tax problems and stumbles that have led to three of his top nominees withdrawing from consideration.

Although Obama has encountered near-unanimous GOP opposition to his stimulus plan in Congress and widespread criticism for a housing bailout plan that some say rewards people who have been fiscally irresponsible, 64 percent of those polled back the economic recovery package, and the same percentage support the mortgage proposal. The broad support for the recovery package comes as just 10 percent said the bill was too heavy on spending and too light on tax cuts, the primary contention of the Republican leadership in Congress.

Overall, 60 percent of poll respondents approve of how Obama is dealing with the economy.

About nine in 10 Democrats and seven in 10 independents said Obama is living up to the central promise of his campaign: bringing change to Washington. Most Republicans said he is not.

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