America sharply split on Obama’s first year

A NEW sheaf of opinion polls show Americans sharply divided on President Barack Obama’s first year in office, as his ratings on key issues like healthcare and the economy hit new lows.

Polling also suggests independent voters are turning away from Obama as he nears the anniversary of his January 20 inauguration – though in a sign of hope for his administration, he remains more popular than his policies.

In a new Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday, US voters were split 45-45 on whether Obama’s first year was a success or failure.

When voters were asked in a CNN/Opinion Research survey published on Tuesday to rate Obama’s performance since taking office, 48% judged it a failure, and 47% saw a success.

Obama’s first year, after he accepted a challenging legacy from ex-president George W Bush, has seen him battle the worst economic crisis in 70 years, juggle two wars and contend with a botched al-Qaida terror attack on a US airliner on Christmas Day.

A CBS News poll showed Obama’s job approval rating at 46%, marking the first time he had polled below 50% in the survey.

The CNN poll meanwhile showed Obama’s approval rating at 51% – but that was down three points in a month.

Quinnipiac had Obama’s job approval/disapproval split at 45% for the first time.

“President Obama’s report card from the American people on his first year in office is a mixed one,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“He gets better grades on his personal qualities than his policies.”

In the Quinnipiac poll, there was a narrow margin among respondents, 35-37% on whether the US would have been better off had Obama’s Republican opponent John McCain won last year’s election.

After a bitter year-long debate, Obama and Democrats in Congress are moving closer to passing a sweeping health care reform bill, but the polls show their efforts have exacted a painful political price.

Just 36% of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of health care, down from 42% in December and 47% in October, CBS said.

In the CNN survey, 40% of those polled backed Obama’s handling of health care and 59% disapproved. In October 42% approved, and as far back as last March 57% of those polled endorsed his approach.

President Obama yesterday said he has not succeeded in bringing the country together, acknowledging an atmosphere of divisiveness that has washed away the lofty national feeling surrounding his inauguration a year ago.

“That’s what’s been lost this year . . . that whole sense of changing how Washington works,” Obama said in an interview with People magazine.

The president said his second-year agenda will be refocused on uniting the country around common values, “whether we’re Democrats or Republicans”.

“We all want work that’s satisfying, pays the bills and gives children a better future and security,” Obama said in the interview.

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