World and Nation

Poll Finds Brightening Outlook on U.S. Economy

Americans have grown more optimistic about the economy and the direction of the country in the 11 weeks since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, suggesting that Obama is enjoying some success in his critical task of rebuilding the nation’s confidence, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

These sometimes turbulent weeks — marked by new initiatives by Obama, attacks by Republicans and more than a few missteps by the White House — do not appear to have hurt the president. Americans said they approved of Obama’s handling of the economy, foreign policy, Iraq and Afghanistan; fully two-thirds said they approved of his overall job performance.

By contrast, just 31 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the Republican Party, the lowest in the 25 years the question has been asked in New York Times/CBS News polls.

It is not unusual for new presidents to enjoy a period of public support. Still, the durability of Obama’s support contrasts with that of some of his predecessors at the same point in their terms. It is also striking at a time when anxiety has gripped households across the country and Obama has alternately sought to rally Americans’ spirits and warn against economic collapse as he seeks congressional support for his programs.

The poll found that 70 percent of respondents were very concerned or somewhat concerned that someone in their household would be out of work and looking for a job in the next 12 months. Forty percent said they had cut spending on luxuries, and 10 percent said they had cut back on necessities; 31 percent said they had cut both.

For all that, the number of people who said they thought the country was heading in the right direction jumped from 15 percent in mid-January, just before Obama took office, to 39 percent today, while the number who said it was heading in the wrong direction dropped to 53 percent from 79 percent. That is the highest percentage of Americans who said the country was heading in the right direction since 42 percent said so in February 2005, the second month of President George W. Bush’s second term. The percentage of people who said the economy was getting worse has declined from 54 percent just before Obama took office to 34 percent today. And 20 percent now think the economy is getting better, compared with 7 percent in mid-January.

“It’s psychology more than anything else,” Arthur Gilman, a Republican from Ridgewood, N.J., said in a follow-up interview to the poll. “President Obama has turned around the negative feeling in this country. He’s given everything an impetus because he’s very upbeat, like Roosevelt was. It’s too soon to tell if the spending stuff works, but some things have improved.”

Frank Henwood, an independent from Amarillo, Texas, said: “Hopefully, the stock market has bottomed out and is on the rise. Once the stock market shapes up, I think the economy will come back, and then jobs will come back and people will start buying automobiles made in America.”

With the poll finding that an overwhelming number think the recession will last a year or more, Obama may find he has a deep well of patience to draw on.