Ratings on Obama’s handling of the deficit

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Most Americans disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling the federal budget deficit, but head-to-head against the Republicans in Congress, the president appears to be in better political shape than former president Bill Clinton was at the start of his year-long budget fight with the Republicans in 1995.

In a new Gallup poll – taken before the president released his budget this week – fully 68 percent of Americans said they disapprove of the way the president is handling the federal budget deficit, by far his worst rating of the eight specific issues in the survey. Pitted against the GOP, however, there’s a roughly even split: in a January Washington Post-ABC News poll, 44 percent of Americans said they put more faith in Obama to handle the deficit; about as many said they trust the GOP on the issue. (CBS-NYT and CNN polls in January showed similar divide.)

By contrast, in January 1995, congressional Republicans had a sizable 23-point advantage – 55 to 32 percent – when it came to deficit reduction.

Clinton’s overall approval ratings in early 1995 Post-ABC and Gallup polls exactly match Obama’s numbers in these polls now (54 and 49 percent, respectively).

But on today’s top issue – the looming budget battle – Obama’s approval ratings still lag broader public assessments. In Post-ABC polling, majorities have disapproved of the president’s handling the budget for almost a year and a half.

Not surprisingly, partisan differences are vast: in the January Post-ABC poll, 76 percent of Democrats approved of how Obama was then handling the issue, compared with just 15 percent among Republicans. In that poll, he got 34 percent approval among independents. In the early February Gallup poll, a mere 7 percent of Republicans backed Obama on the deficit.

One thorny problem for both sides in the looming budget debate is deciding where specifically to make cuts. See last week’s posts for more details.
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