President Obama at One Year: Lower Ratings, Higher Doubts

CONFIDENCE and IRE: As noted, confidence in Obama's decision-making has deteriorated markedly. Forty-seven percent trust him to make the right decisions for the country's future, down from 61 percent when he took office. Fifty-three percent don't, up from 37 percent.

But that's better than the other chief players in Washington politics. Far more Americans, 75 percent, don't trust the Republicans in Congress to make the right decisions for the country's future; just 24 percent do -- up 5 points from its nadir in October, but still only half Obama's level of trust. Sixty-eight percent don't trust decision-making by the Democrats in Congress, up 12 points since January. Thirty-two percent do.

Some ire is also deflected by the fact that far more Americans blame the country's economic straits on the Bush administration, for inadequate regulation of the financial industry -- 67 percent -- than separately blame Obama, for not doing enough to turn things around, 36 percent. It's true, too, that today's 62 percent "wrong track" figure, while 14 points worse than its recent best last spring, is still better than its record 90 percent in October 2008.

Also, while 42 percent call the economy the single biggest problem for the president and the Congress to address, still far and away the top item, it's down from 66 percent a year ago. That reflects a large rise in the number who cite health care as the top problem, now 24 percent.

PRECEDENTS: To a large extent Obama's treading the predicted path for a president presiding over 10 percent unemployment. His course in approval almost precisely matches that of the last president to take office in the tempest of a recession, Ronald Reagan, who went from 68 percent job approval shortly after he took office to 52 percent at the one-year mark. Obama's gone from 68 percent to 53 percent in the comparable period. Their first-year ratings correlate at .88, with 1 representing a perfect match.

The worrying news for Obama is that Reagan went on to slip below 50 percent and pretty much stayed there throughout his second year, bottoming out at 42 percent at the two-year mark (and losing 26 House seats en route). He recovered only when the economy did.

Better for Obama is the long-term precedent; Reagan did recover, and completed his two-term presidency with an average 56 percent approval, solidly in the midrange for a postwar president.

Some of Obama's ratings also call to mind another previous president. In January 1994, with the public mood fouled by a recession hangover, just 37 percent of Americans said Bill Clinton was keeping most of his major campaign promises, and 53 percent said he hadn't accomplished much so far -- both similar to Obama's ratings now. Clinton, however, went on to end his two terms with an average 57 percent approval, almost identical to Reagan's.

The net change for Obama in his first year, down 15 points, is about the same as it was for Jimmy Carter as well as Reagan, and was worse for two presidents (both unelected) -- Harry Truman, down 36 points in his first year, and Gerald Ford, down 26 points.

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