Obama Lauded on Response to Tucson; More See Chance of Political Conciliation

VIDEO: George Stephanopoulos on the poll showing America rallying around the president.
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Americans divide on the risks posed by the tone of the country's political discourse but approve overwhelmingly of President Obama's attempt to redirect it. Most also hold some hopes of political conciliation in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings.

Seventy-eight percent in a new ABC News-Washington Post poll approve of the way Obama has responded to the shootings, which he addressed in a speech in Tucson last week; that includes 71 percent of Republicans and conservatives alike. Far fewer, 30 percent overall, approve of the response by his political rival, Sarah Palin.

Moreover, there has been a shift -- small but significant -- in a sense that Obama and the Republicans in Congress may find a way to work together on important issues in the year ahead. Fifty-five percent are optimistic that this may happen, up from 48 percent in an ABC News-Yahoo News poll earlier this month, before the attack occurred.

Click Here for PDF With Charts and Questionnaire

In policy terms, this survey, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds no shift toward support for gun control legislation. Indeed, following the course of gun attitudes more generally, support for banning semi-automatic handguns actually is lower than it was after the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007.

At the same time, a 57 percent majority supports another proposal, banning high-capacity ammunition clips, which were used in Tucson. And there's vast agreement on a need for further efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people with a history of mental illness or drug abuse.

Discourse

The public overwhelmingly sees the country's political discourse as negative in tone; 82 percent say so, including three in 10 who say it's "angry." Still there's a division, 49-49 percent, on whether it has created a climate that could encourage political violence.

On the Tucson shootings specifically, 54 percent of Americans do not think the political discourse contributed to the incident, while 40 percent think it did. Those who do see a connection divide on whether it was a strong factor.

GOP Gets More of the Blame

The survey more generally finds blame for the political tone spread across a variety of groups. Half the public says the Tea Party political movement and its supporters, as well as political commentators on both side of the ideological divide, have "crossed the line" in terms of attacking the other side.

Forty-five percent say the Republican Party and its supporters have done the same; fewer, 39 percent, say so about the Democratic Party and its supporters, reflecting the Democrats' continued broader allegiance overall.

On all of these, there are sharp divides politically and ideologically, as detailed below.

Response

Specifically, in terms of the Jan. 8 shootings, 78 percent of Americans, as noted, approve of Obama's response, and 51 percent approve "strongly." That's the highest rating on a single issue Obama has received during his presidency, although he had 80 percent approval just before taking office for his handling of the transition.

While these are rare ratings, other presidents have gone as high or higher on specific issues: George W. Bush for handling terrorism, Bill Clinton for his transition, George H. W. Bush for handling the Persian Gulf War and Ronald Reagan for a 1987 summit with the Soviets.

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