Partisanship is in abeyance in some other measures; 62 percent of Republicans approve of how Obama has handled the transition, 54 percent see him favorably on a more personal level, and, notably, even among Republicans, 58 percent say Obama has a mandate for major change – meaning, chiefly, the economy. But partisanship still lurks in the wings, a potent force.
Indeed, and as noted, honeymoons rarely last. One dramatic example was in 1993: At the time of Clinton's inauguration, 72 percent of Republicans approved of his handling of his transition. A mere month later, after fumbling his administration's rollout, Clinton plummeted to 34 percent approval among Republicans.
Still, Obama may take advantage from the Republican Party's weakness after the Bush presidency. Just 52 percent of Republicans express confidence in their own party in Congress; Democratic self-confidence, by contrast, is 77 percent. And overall, 35 percent of adults identify themselves as Democrats, vs. 23 percent Republicans – among the lowest Republican allegiance in ABC/Post polls since 1981.
CUSHION – Obama, again, has the cushion of very strong personal ratings. Beyond his personal favorability, he's achieved a decline in partisan perceptions: The number of Americans who see him as "too liberal" has declined from 39 percent shortly before the election to 29 percent now. And as noted, in a related rating – his single best – 89 percent see him as "willing to listen to different points of view." No more than 49 percent (and as few as 36 percent) said that of Bush.
On other personal attributes anywhere from 67 to 76 percent also say Obama shares their values, can be trusted in a crisis, is a strong leader, is honest and trustworthy, understands their problems and will bring needed change to Washington. Sixty-two percent think he'll be a good commander-in-chief of the military – his lowest of these, but up 16 points since September.
PRIORITIES – As he sets to work, Obama's top task is no surprise: Seventy-six percent say the economy should receive the highest-level priority for the new president and the Congress, half again as many as pick any of the second-tier issues – terrorism and (perhaps ominously) the deficit.
Compared to a January 2006 poll, mentions of the economy as a top-priority issue are up by a huge 24 points – and of the deficit, up by 10.
Notably fewer pick Iraq as a highest-level priority, 41 percent, down 19 points since 2006, putting it on par with perennials such as health care (down 12 points as a first-tier issue compared with 2006) and education. Nearly as many, 37 percent, give a top-priority slot to Afghanistan, with other issues – taxes, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, immigration and global warming – lower on the list.
On Iraq, 55 percent say Obama's planned withdrawal schedule – 5,000 to 10,000 troops a month – sounds about right. But on Afghanistan, just 34 percent favor increasing the deployment of U.S. forces, as Obama intends – a sign that navigating the economy is just the start, not the end, of the challenges facing this new president.
METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 13-16, 2009, among a random national sample of 1,079 adults, including landline and cell-only respondents, with an oversample of African Americans (weighted to their correct share of the population) for a total of 204 black respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3-point error margin; click here for a detailed description of sampling error. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.