It's a honeymoon, all right. President Obama was greeted warmly and peacefully at his inauguration, his approval rating is among the best of any president elected since World War II, and his Democratic Party is enjoying support not seen in two decades.
In Gallup's latest job ratings survey, released Friday, 69 percent of respondents said they approved of Obama's performance so far. This mark is second only to John F. Kennedy, who enjoyed 72 percent approval in a poll done mid-February 1961. Obama's support among Democrats is, not surprisingly, sky-high; nearly 9 in 10 respondents from the president's party rated him positively. A healthy majority of independents did as well, with 62 percent approving. Members of the GOP, however, were a harder sell; less than half -- 43 percent -- approved, with almost a third expressing disapproval.
But not all honeymoons are perfect. As Charlie Cook wrote in a recent column, judgment of "Obama and the enlarged Democratic majorities... will be based on whether the economy has begun to improve, whether they are seen as having tried their best to address this recession and whether they have remained true to the supporters that put them into office."
Cook cites "three yardsticks" that are useful in determining how Obama is doing and how his performance will affect "the political terrain and dynamics of" midterm elections. The first one is job approval, where Obama is strong for now. The other two are voters' congressional party preferences and party identification. By both of those measures, the Democrats are besting the GOP, showing the Obama ripple effect in action.
In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, 56 percent of respondents preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress, while just under a third chose the GOP. Furthermore, Gallup polling shows the Democrats matching their highest party ID and reaching their biggest advantage over Republicans in the 20 years the organization has been conducting regular telephone polls. Gallup pollsters found that an average of 36 percent of Americans identified themselves as Democrats over the course of 2008, a full 8 percentage points more than those who call themselves Republicans.
Economy Still Far And Away The Top Priority
Whether Obama and the Democratic Congress can prolong the honeymoon they're enjoying may depend on the outcome of the financial stimulus package, which is being debated in House committees this week. An overwhelming number of Americans say Obama should address the economy first and foremost. In a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 6 in 10 respondents cited the economy and jobs as the most important problems facing the country, and about half of respondents pegged one of the two as "the single most important thing" they'd like to see Obama address.
Political insiders on both sides of the aisle echoed that sentiment in last week's National Journal Insiders Poll, which asked them how important it was politically for Obama to win approval on a variety of issues. The stimulus package scored highest: an average 4.9 rating (out of 5) from Democrats and 4.5 from Republicans. One Republican insider went so far as to predict that "the state of the economy will define his presidency." Financial re-regulation, an issue closely tied to economic conditions, came in second with a 3.7 rating among Democrats and 3.2 among Republicans.