President-elect Barack Obama approaches his inauguration with exceptional goodwill from the American people, but faces some political challenges in selling his economic stimulus package.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that seven in 10 Americans approve the way he has handled the transition. Americans rate him more positively on key leadership traits, from likeability to experience to ability to handle a crisis, than they did George W. Bush and Bill Clinton at similar points before their presidencies.
Moreover, by 57 percent to 36 percent, Americans call the economic stimulus package Obama seeks to push through Congress a good idea rather than a bad idea. And as by Obama's greater focus on government spending rather than tax cuts, the public agrees by a 63percent to 33 percent margin. The telephone survey of 1,007 adults, conducted January 9-12, carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.
But Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who helps conduct the NBC/WSJ survey, calls Obama's political positioning on the stimulus package "strong, with caution." The reason is that, by 60 percent to 33 percent, Americans say they worry more that the government will spend too much money than that Washington will spend too little.
Mr. Hart's Republican partner in the survey, Bill McInturff, says part of the reason for that finding is that some Americans are associating Obama's roughly $800 billion economic stimulus program with the unpopular $700 billion bailout package that Congress passed for the financial industry last fall. To prevent the stimulus from facing increasing difficulty, Mr. McInturff said, the Obama team needs to step up its efforts to explain the difference between the two.
At the same time, the poll suggests that elements of the business community have little leverage in public opinion in pressing for changes to Obama's package. Some 55 percent or more of Americans express little or no confidence in large corporations, Wall Street and the financial industry; in each case, fewer than 15 percent of Americans express confidence in those sectors.
The auto industry, which received billions in loans from the Treasury Department recently and face a deadline to demonstrate viability this spring, enjoys the confidence of just 13 percent of Americans, while 51percent express little or no confidence. Those numbers make President Bush's 27 percent approval rating—a record low for a president as his term is about to expire—look robust.