Obama Needs Support From Congress, Country
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This land is also Cokie Roberts' land. She joins us every Monday morning for analysis, and she's with us once again. Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS: And you admit you're really singing right now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: We'll sing, we'll sing right after the break. In about four minutes, you and I can sing. Right off air - off air, we should stress.
ROBERTS: Off air.
INSKEEP: Exactly. OK, so the real work starts tomorrow. President-elect Obama becomes President Obama. And I suppose we should remember amid all this celebration, this is a guy who won with 52 percent of the vote. How broad is his support?
ROBERTS: Incredibly broad, according to two big polls out over the weekend. One, ABC-Washington Post, one New York Times-CBS. His personal popularity is better than any president's since Ronald Reagan's.
Almost 80 percent of the people saying that they like him. Similarly, his political approval is way up there; two-thirds give him - you know, pass the Goldilocks test, saying that his ideology is about - just right, not too liberal, not too conservative. And in the New York Times-CBS poll, almost 80 percent say they're optimistic about Obama's presidency.
INKEEP: Well now, Cokie, does that mean if you've got millions of people - if those polls are right - millions of people who didn't vote for the guy, who now support him just a couple of months later, does that mean he's been successful in reaching out to conservatives and other kinds of voters?
ROBERTS: Yeah, I think so. I think that - look, some of this is they like him, they like the incoming first lady, she's got a 72 percent approval. You saw the crowds this weekend all coming out. But almost 90 percent say that he's willing to listen to different points of view.
And that's a change from what they've been seeing in Washington with both parties. He's been striking the right notes for these folks with the bipartisan reach-out, to Senator McCain, to conservative columnists, going to the Tomb of the Unknowns yesterday.
But look, it's also true, Steve, that people are terrified about the economy. I mean, both polls show huge numbers saying the economy is bad, close to 100 percent - in the 90s in both. And 80 percent say it's worse than it was five years ago. So these people are ready to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on just about anything at this point.
INSKEEP: Does the president-elect have a benefit now that he will not have in six months or a year? Meaning, that if people are thinking about whether they approve of him or not, they compare him with President Bush, with whom many people disagree?
ROBERTS: Absolutely. And George Bush continues to score badly in these polls: 33 percent approval in the ABC, 22 in the New York Times. He never got into a positive approval ratings in this second term - after having the highest in history after September 11th.
Also, people are saying his place in history will be poor. Fifty-eight percent in the ABC poll believe he will be rated as an average or poor president. And he's the only recent president to be that high. Carter was about 46 percent. Compare it with George Bush's father, at 12 percent saying that. So that definitely makes Obama's task easier.
INSKEEP: Although, let me ask about something else. Because, of course, just four years ago, President Bush was taking office for a second term. His party had control of Congress. He had a huge agenda he wanted to push through, and almost none of it got done. Is it likely that Barack Obama is in position to do better?
ROBERTS: Yes. Look, again, as I say, you've got people ready to basically let him do just about anything. And these polls say that they agree with him on all kinds of stuff in terms of the economic stimulus, but essentially, you know, just do something. And Republicans might be pushing back against that stimulus package, but they have to be careful because Obama really does have the political capital.
More than 60 percent of the people say they're confident in him, compared to only 43 percent confident with the Democrats in Congress, only 29 percent with the Republicans in Congress. And the Republican identification, only 23 percent of the people are calling themselves Republican. That's one of the lowest in history. So they have to be very careful not to be seen as obstructionists. Especially after tomorrow, Steve, when Obama's likely to even get more approval.
INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts. And of course, NPR News will be bringing you live coverage of tomorrow's presidential inauguration. You're listening to Morning Edition from NPR News.