DEFICIT – The deficit, on which Obama was holding a White House summit today, is a rare issue of broad agreement: Eighty-seven percent of Americans say they're concerned about it, including more than eight in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.
But the number who are "very concerned" about the deficit has risen by 10 points since mid-December, the increase occurring exclusively among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents - from 47 percent "very concerned" in December to 73 percent now. (And among people who strongly oppose the stimulus plan – chiefly Republicans – even more, 81 percent, are highly concerned about the deficit.)
The agenda for Obama's summit included Social Security and Medicare, two critical programs whose financial integrity is in broad doubt. Just 39 percent of Americans are confident Social Security will be able to pay them their full benefits throughout their retirement; about the same number, 37 percent, think they'll get adequate health coverage from Medicare. Far fewer are "very confident" of these – 11 and 8 percent, respectively.
PARTISANS and POLITICS – If tenacious partisanship is a disappointment to Obama, it may be a bigger bummer for the Republicans, whose party remains greatly weakened after the long-unpopular Bush presidency. Three results tell the story:
• The Democratic Party leads the Republicans by 56-30 percent in trust to handle the country's main problems. That has slightly improved from 56-23 percent in December, as congressional Republicans found a unified voice in opposition to the stimulus. But the December number was the Republicans' worst in ABC/Post polls since 1982; they still have far to climb.
• Fifty percent of Americans approve of the way the Democrats in Congress are doing their jobs, while 44 percent disapprove – if hardly a barn-burner, still the Democrats' best in two years, since April 2007, just after they regained control of Congress. And their Republican counterparts are a good deal weaker: 38 percent approve, 56 percent disapprove. (Democratic gains have come mainly in two groups: among Democrats themselves, and among liberals. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats now approve of their own party; just 55 percent of Republicans feel the same about theirs.)
• The Democrats are holding the edge in partisan affiliation they've built since 2004, when the public soured on the Iraq war and the Bush presidency in turn. Thirty-six percent in this poll identify themselves as Democrats, just 24 percent as Republicans. On average in 2003, by contrast, the parties were at parity, 31 percent apiece.
Ask independents how they lean and the split goes to 54-37 percent Democratic – a substantial advantage for Obama and his party even within the bounds of partisan preferences.
OBAMA/ECONOMY – Obama's approval rating for handling the economy, 60 percent, is a bit lower than his rating overall, but not bad given the economy's condition; indeed, 56 percent think the country's not in a normal downturn but something more threatening - "a serious long-term decline." That's a level of gloom unseen since 1992.
Obama's approval rating on the economy, moreover, is 36 points higher than Bush's departing rating on the same issue. But the partisan gap here is especially large: Eighty-three percent of Democrats approve of Obama's economic work. Twenty-four percent of Republicans agree.