As America faces the seemingly unpopular choice of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama is looking better than he has since the start of his presidency, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.
There are warning signs that the country could want a change in direction. Americans who are worried about the economy, political gridlock and terrorism think the country is going in the wrong by a rate of 70 to 25.
But 51 percent of registered voters say they approve of the job Obama is doing as president, compared to 43 percent who disapprove.
Before this year, the last time more than half of the electorate gave Obama gave him such high marks was in 2009, after he was first elected to the White House on a message of hope and change.
“I think President Obama has been extremely thoughtful as a president in a time of great change and conflict in our country,” said Marilyn Heiman, 54, a Democrat who works on natural resource issues in Seattle. “And he’s done it with very little drama.”
Obama’s approval rating slumped to 40 percent before the 2014 midterm elections, when candidates did not want to appear on the campaign trail with him, but his numbers have improved since caucuses and primaries for the 2016 presidential race got under way at the beginning of this year.
Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the nationwide poll, said that’s in part because people are comparing him to Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
Clinton and Trump are running close in the latest McClatchy-Marist poll, as they clash in a contest in which both sides have engaged in name-calling and negative campaigning. “The campaigns have been so divisive,” he said.
Miringoff said Obama’s numbers were the best thing that could have happened to Clinton’s campaign just weeks after he endorsed his former secretary of state, calling her possibly the most qualified person ever to run for president of the United States.
“It’s significant to the degree that Hillary Clinton is following him and then depending on him in her campaign,” he said.
By 90-6, Democrats approve of the job Obama is doing. Independents approve by 50-45. Not surprisingly, just 10 percent of Republicans approve of his work, while 84 percent disapprove.
Obama’s approval spans most regions of the country, ages and incomes. African Americans gave the first black president the highest marks, 88 percent, followed by Latinos, 64 percent, and whites, 41 percent.
“I can’t say I’m against the guy,” said Mary Beth Koniak, 46, a Republican in Staunton, Illinois, who works for Boeing. “You see everybody else hating on him, but you can’t stop the terrorists. You’re never going to be able to stop them. Obama hasn’t done anything wrong. Even though I want Trump to get in there, I can’t think of anything he’s done that affects me, or anyone, or the world.”
Still, the solid feeling that the country is going in the wrong direction is fueling an anger in the country that has helped nontraditional candidates, including Trump, do so well. Before this year, it hadn’t been that high since 2011.
Only 26 percent think their personal family finances will get better in the next year while 17 percent think they will get worse.
Fifty-seven percent think future generations will be worse off financially than people are now. Only 19 percent think they will be better off.
“I think the country is in worse shape than it’s ever been,” said Lanet Erickson, 61, a business owner of Sanger, California. “I think it’s going in a negative direction. I think everybody is upset. ... I don’t know if that’s his agenda deep down. I think he likes conflict, and we’re just in a conflicted time.”
While Obama scored some of his highest marks, Congress scored some of its lowest.
The disapproval rating of congressional Republicans, who control the House of Representatives and Senate, was 72 percent. Fifty-five percent of registered voters disapproved of congressional Democrats’ performance.
Megan Henney and Eleanor Mueller contributed to this article.
This survey of 1,249 adults was conducted July 5-9, 2016 by The Marist Poll sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the contiguous United States were contacted on landline or mobile numbers and interviewed in English by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were randomly selected by first asking for the youngest male. This landline sample was combined with respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. After the interviews were completed, the two samples were combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey 1-year estimates for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. There are 1,053 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.