Two-Thirds Approve of Transition; Expectations on Economy Pull Back

Americans have eased back on their expectations of Barack Obama's ability to improve the crippled economy, potentially buying him time as his newly announced economic team sets to work.

Perhaps reflecting its continued deterioration, fewer than half, 44 percent, think Obama will be able to improve the economy significantly, compared with 50 percent of likely voters shortly before the election. That could provide him with some breathing room.

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Regardless of how long it lasts, Obama's honeymoon is underway: Sixty-seven percent in this ABC News poll approve of his work on the transition and about as many, 66 percent, favor his highest-profile move, the apparent (if as yet unannounced) selection of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

The latest loser: The Big Three automakers, who last week issued an ill-received appeal for $25 billion in government loans. Fifty-seven percent of Americans oppose it, and "strong" opponents outnumber strong supporters by 2-1.

ECONOMY – Expectations of Obama's economic performance are highly partisan. Just 16 percent of Republicans expect him to be able to accomplish a "great deal" or "good amount" to improve the economy, essentially unchanged from election eve.

At the same time, that expectation has declined among Democrats and independents alike (by 9 and 10 points, respectively), suggesting a more sober post-election assessment in these groups. Obama himself, in introducing his economic team today, pledged fast work but also said the economy "is likely to get worse before it gets better."

Given the larger forces at work, relatively few Americans, 24 percent overall, expect the incoming president to be able to do "a great deal" to improve the economy. That's even though it was the single most dominant issue of the campaign, and Obama's ability to connect with the public's economic concerns that lifted him to his Nov. 4 victory.

TRANSITION – Approval of Obama's handling of the transition is slightly better than Bill Clinton's 62 percent in mid-November 1992. Clinton improved from there, to 72 percent in mid-December and 81 percent just before his inauguration in mid-January 1993. George W. Bush's grade late in his transition also was high, albeit not as high as Clinton's – 72 percent in mid-January 2001.

Obama's early rating is marked by partisanship: Eighty-nine percent of Democrats approve of his work so far, as do 63 percent of independents but just 39 percent of Republicans.

That's similar to initial skepticism among Republicans about Clinton in 1992. At first just 44 percent approved of his handling of the transition. That warmed considerably, to 53 percent in mid-December and a remarkable 72 percent just before he took office.

Then again, it didn't last: Clinton's job approval rating among Republicans dropped sharply soon after he took office; less than a month later just 34 percent approved – a cautionary note that initial popularity often fades.

CLINTON and CARMAKERS – Views on Hillary Clinton are almost identically partisan; 88 percent of Democrats say they'd approve of her selection as secretary of state, as do 65 percent of independents vs. 38 percent of Republicans.

Women are 6 points more likely than men to approve; that's likely because women also are 9 points more apt than men to be Democrats.

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