NPR logo Pew Poll: Voters Grade Obama Low For Performance, Higher For Character

Barack Obama

Pew Poll: Voters Grade Obama Low For Performance, Higher For Character

President Obama is briefed by Brian Deese, National Economic Council deputy director, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Aug. 24, 2011. Pete Souza/The White House hide caption

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Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama is briefed by Brian Deese, National Economic Council deputy director, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Aug. 24, 2011.

Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama appears to have something of a nice-guy-finishes-last problem on his hands or, more accurately, in voters' minds.

A new Pew Research Center Poll shows the president getting low marks from voters for job performance, specifically his handling of the economy and his dealings with congressional Republicans.

But he gets higher ratings for personal qualities like trustworthiness and sticking to his beliefs.

In August, 43 percent of the voters Pew surveyed approved of Obama's job performance compared with 49 percent who disapproved.

An excerpt from the poll:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Aug. 17-21 among 1,509 adults, finds that Barack Obama's job approval rating has declined markedly since the killing of Osama bin Laden in early May. For the first time in his presidency, significantly more disapprove than approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president (49% vs. 43%), and the margin of strong disapproval over strong approval has widened; currently, 38% strongly disapprove of Obama's job performance while 26% strongly approve.

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So that's the bad news for the president. The good news comes in at least two forms.

Voters rate Congress significantly lower than they do the president. Republicans draw lower ratings, too.

Just 22% approve of the job performance of Republican congressional leaders, down from 36% in February. Ratings for Democratic leaders are only somewhat better (29% approve). More generally, the Republican Party's favorable rating has declined from 42% in early February to 34% currently. At 43%, the Democratic Party is viewed more favorably than the GOP, but it too was rated a bit better earlier in the year (47% in February).

The other piece of good news for the president is that despite his low ratings on job performance, voters seem to like the man and view him as someone of character.

The better news for Obama is that he continues to be seen by majorities as someone who stands up for what he believes in (71%), as caring (63%) and trustworthy (59%). Moreover, his 43% job approval rating, while much lower than his rating just a few months ago, is relatively strong given the widespread dissatisfaction with national conditions, increasingly negative views of the economy, and broad distrust of government. And Obama's approval rating continues to be much higher than those for congressional leaders of both parties.

That the ratings on his personal qualities are so relatively high gives the president a lot to work with as he heads into his re-election. To have six out of ten people say you're trustworthy in this political environment is no mean feat.

To a certain extent, the president's demeanor for which he gets so much criticism may play a role in this. It's probably easier to trust someone who seems even- keeled in crisis, who doesn't get too hot or cold, than a more mercurial personality.