VOLUME 28 NO. 4 | JANUARY 17 - JANUARY 23, 2009

Obama wins popularity contest … before even taking office

Last updated 1-15-09 at 1:19 p.m.

Chart by Han Bui

By Amy Phan
Northwest Asian Weekly

Though President-elect Obama has yet to make any executive decisions in the White House (which officially begins Jan. 20), a national poll surveying public opinion indicates that Obama already has higher level of approval coming in than President Bush has going out.

According to the Rasmussen Reports, Obama had a 69 percent approval rating on Jan. 5.

An analysis into the polls, known as the presidential approval index, shows that of the 1,500 voters surveyed during December, Obama has consistently scored above a 65 percent approval mark.

These percentages come in stark contrast with President Bush’s current approval ratings.

During his last full month in office, Bush had his fourth lowest presidential approval index for 2008 — 62 percent disapproval and 35 percent approval. The month of December marked a slight improvement from approval ratings of 32 percent, 33 percent, and 34 percent during the months of June, July, and August, respectively.

“A president usually wants to be above 55 percent,” said University of Washington political science professor Dr. Matt Barreto.

“It doesn’t hurt any candidate to come into office on the heels of such low ratings like President Bush,” he said.

Bush’s low rating was not always the case

A few weeks after 9/11, Bush’s approval ratings shot up to 90 percent, according to the Gallup Poll — the highest presidential rating in its 70-year polling history. Bush’s approval ratings stayed above 80 percent in March 2001 and 70 percent in June 2001.

Since then, Bush has never come close to repeating the ratings in the weeks following 9/11. The next closest approval rating at 52 percent was on his second Inauguration Day, in 2005, according to the Gallup Poll.

This begs the question: How does Obama’s pre-inauguration approval ratings compare?

Obama’s rating breaks no records

On a historical note, Obama’s 69 percent approval rating isn’t the highest — that distinction belongs to Eisenhower, with a 75 percent approval rating in December 1955 — but it isn’t the lowest, either.

According to Barreto, Obama’s approval percentage is “typical of any incoming president.”

“We’re in the same political climate as we were a few months ago,” he said. “There’s going to be a big surge of support during the first few months of a presidency, since [Obama] just won the election.”

He explained that even voters on the opposite side of the political spectrum are willing to give the winning president the “benefit of the doubt.”

Historical presidential approval surveys have revealed the general public, during the first three months, to be “supporting” of the new administration, he continued.

“I think beginning in June, people will take a step back and look at the Obama administration to see if things are better or different,” Barreto said.

Though Obama’s pre-inauguration approval rating is historically typical, the number and diversity of voters who came out in support of the President-elect is not.

The impact of minority voters

There was a record voting turn out for minority groups across all demographics in the 2008 election, said Barreto.
Unlike the 2000 presidential election, Asian Americans played a key role in solidifying Obama’s success. According to exit polls of 16,000 randomly selected voters conducted by CNN/Gallup Poll, 63 percent of Asian Americans voted for Obama.

“Historically, the Asian American electorate is often viewed as a mixed bag in partisan terms. … Previous elections pointed to a slight preference for the Democratic candidate,” said Taeku Lee, an associate professor of political science and law at the University of California at Berkeley.

However, 2008 exit polls revealed Asian American voters exceeded votes received by John Kerry in 2000 from Latino voters, who are viewed as a solid Democratic electorate, he continued.

Lee said key issues leading up to the 2008 election was “no different for Asian Americans than they were for the American electorate as a whole,” citing the two major concerns to be setting the “economy on a quick path to recovery and chart a way out of America’s … involvement in Iraq.”

According to Lee, Obama’s presidential approval ratings will rest heavily upon his “attentive[ness]” toward the political views and interests of “Asian American and Latino voters.”

“Asians and Latinos are the two fastest growing segments of the electorate, and the long-term viability and success … is contingent on bringing these largely immigrant-based electorates into the fold,” he said.

However, Lee believes Obama’s approval from minority voters would be “solidified … by handling [issues of the economy and Iraq war] with some measure of competence and forward-looking vision.”

Can Obama keep his high approval rating?

Obama’s current 69 percent approval rating, said University of Washington political science professor Christopher Parker, is going to “be really hard to sustain.”

“As soon as [Obama] starts making decisions, … some of the people who supported him [in the beginning] aren’t going to be happy. There’s going to be people on the left and right unhappy,” he said.

Just how important are the polls?

Any poll attempting to measure public opinion of the president may only be quantitatively correct, at best.
More so than ever before, Parker said, the presidential approval ratings translated into much more than a simple aptitude test of the president.

“The role of presidency is always a symbolic one. Obama will be more than a president. … So many Black kids will be able to see Obama’s face plastered everywhere, and that will do wonders for their self-esteem,” he said.

“[Obama’s presidency means] this country is getting closer to its ideals, and that is something we can all be proud of,” said Parker. (end)

Amy Phan can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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