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Poll: Majority of Americans believe Bush will move the country in the right direction

Despite setbacks, transition period 'typical'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Most Americans are confident in George W. Bush's ability to handle the economy and world affairs, but he gets slightly lower marks than Bill Clinton at the start of his first term and significantly lower ratings than Ronald Reagan in 1981, according to the latest CNN/Time poll.

Eight in ten, for example, said they had a lot of confidence or some confidence in Reagan's ability to provide real leadership for the country in January, 1981; 77 percent felt that way about Clinton eight years ago and 72 percent say that about Bush today.

Forty-six percent say that Bush is a leader they can trust; 48 percent have doubts and reservations about him. That's about par for the course for an incoming president -- 46 percent had doubts and reservations about Reagan in 1981 and 50 percent felt that way about Clinton in 1993.

Nonetheless, a majority believes that Bush's policies will move the country in the right direction. Fifty-eight percent have a favorable view of him -- again, similar to previous incoming presidents, with Reagan getting a 60 percent favorable rating at the start of his first term and Clinton notching a 68 percent favorable rating in 1993.

Bush's favorable rating doesn't make him the most popular figure in his administration -- that honor goes to Colin Powell -- but it does put him higher than Al Gore (53 percent), John McCain (47 percent), and Alan Greenspan (45 percent). It also means that Bush is once again more popular than Dick Cheney, whose favorable rating was higher than Bush's in a December CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

Has the transition affected the public's view of Bush? One in five say their impression of the president-elect has gotten better as a result of his performance during the transition period, while a majority say their view of Bush has stayed the same. Once again, that's par for the course compared to the Clinton and Reagan transitions, and the bottom line is that it looks like Bush is having a typical transition

The poll consists of interviews with 1,000 adult Americans and was conducted January 10-11, 2001. It has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points, unless otherwise indicated.

Do you think the policies of George W. Bush will move the country in the right direction or the wrong direction?

Right direction53%
Wrong direction31

Do you have confidence in Bush's ability to handle the economy?

Bush now68%
Clinton in 199373
Reagan in 198183

Do you have confidence in Bush's ability to handle world affairs?

Bush now64%
Clinton in 199366
Reagan in 198176

Do you have confidence in Bush's ability to provide leadership?

Bush now72%
Clinton in 199377
Reagan in 198181

Do you think Bush is a leader you can trust, or do you have some doubts and reservations?

Leader you can trust46%
Doubts and reservations48

Do you think Clinton/Reagan is a leader you can trust?

 YesNo
Bush now46%48%
Clinton in 19934150%
Reagan in 19814846%

Do you have generally favorable impressions of each of the following people?

Bush now58%
Clinton in 199368
Reagan in 198160

Do you have generally favorable impressions of each of the following people?

Colin Powell77%
George W. Bush58
Dick Cheney53
John McCain47
Alan Greenspan45
Sampling error: +/-3% pts

Do you have generally favorable or generally unfavorable impressions of each of the following?

 FavorableUnfavorable
George W. Bush58%32%
Al Gore5340%
Bill Clinton5342%

Do you have generally favorable or generally unfavorable impressions of each of the following?

 FavorableUnfavorable
Democrats in Congress47%26%
Republicans in Congress4529%
Sampling error: +/-3% pts

Regardless of how you voted, have your impressions of George W. Bush improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse as a result of his performance during this transition period?

Gotten better21%
Gotten worse18
Stayed the same54

Regardless of how you voted, have your impressions of George W. Bush/Bill Clinton/Ronald Reagan improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse as a result of his performance during this transition period?

 BetterSame
Bush now21%54%
Clinton in 19932059%
Reagan in 19812361%

Feeling good about Clinton

Of course, there are two sides to every transition -- the new kid on the block and the man he replaces. How do Americans view about Bill Clinton at the end of his eight years in office? A majority have a favorable opinion of him (the same is true of the freshman Senator from New York), and Clinton is rated as highly as Ronald Reagan was at the end of the Gipper's eight years in office.

Ten percent say that Clinton was one of the greatest presidents in history; 11 percent said that about Reagan in January. 1989. Thirty-eight percent say Clinton was a good president (compared to 37 percent who said that about Reagan 12 years ago). Seven in ten say that the country is better off economically and domestically as a result of Clinton's eight years in office; 59 percent say the same about the U.S. and world affairs.

In foreign policy, do you think the country is better off or worse off as a result of Clinton's eight years in office? In economic and domestic policy, do you think the country is better off or worse off as a result of Clinton's eight years in office?

 YesNo
Economy70%19%
World affairs5928%

In your view, is Bill Clinton one of our greatest presidents, a good but not great president, an average president, or a poor president?

Great10%
Good38
Average32
Poor19

In your view, is Bill Clinton/Ronald Reagan one of our greatest presidents, a good but not great president, an average president, or a poor president?

 Clinton
Now
Reagan
in 1989
Great10%11%
Good3837%
Average3237%
Poor1915%

Favorable Ratings
Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Bill and Hillary Clinton?

 FavorableUnfavorable
Bill Clinton53%42%
Hillary Clinton5239%

Ashcroft is unknown

Most Americans are unfamiliar with embattled Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, but think that the Senate should look into his stands on affirmative action and abortion, as well as his opposition to an African-American nominee for a federal judgeship.

Fewer Americans, however, think that Ashcroft's support from conservative Christian organizations is a serious issue, and the public is less certain that Ashcroft's position on gays and gay rights should be given a great deal of attention in his confirmation hearings next week.

Two-thirds feel that the question of whether Ashcroft would enforce laws he does not agree with is a serious matter that the Senate should consider -- the highest number out of the six items tested. Keep in mind, however, that the public is largely unfamiliar with Ashcroft and the issues surrounding his nomination.

The public is more certain how they stand on some of the issues that are likely to surface during Ashcroft's confirmation hearings, and there are indications that the public's attitudes toward abortion, gays and civil rights groups have changed in recent years. Only 35 percent, for example, now feel that a woman should be able to get an abortion if she wants one no matter what the reason -- the lowest level on that since 1987. (A majority believe that abortion should be legal in certain circumstances; only one in eight feel that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, and that figure has changed little since the Reagan administration).

The public is split on whether gays can change their sexual orientation if they choose to do so; 42 percent say they can while 45 percent say that can't happen. That's a significant change since 1998, when a majority believed that gays could change if they chose to do so. But there has been no change in the number of Americans who believe that homosexual relationships between consenting adults is morally wrong -- 55 percent feel that way today; 53 percent felt that way in 1994 and 53 percent believed that in 1978. Another change is on civil rights groups -- only a quarter say that black civil rights groups are asking for too much. Eight years ago, 43 percent felt that way.

Please tell me whether you have generally favorable or generally unfavorable impressions of John Ashcroft

Favorable25%
Unfavorable17
Unsure51

Do you think Bush paid too much attention to conservative interest groups when he appointed his cabinet officials and other top advisers, too little attention, or the right amount of attention?

Too much19%
Too little18
Right amount49

As you may know, the Senate will hold hearings next week on the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general. Is the question of whether Ashcroft would enforce current laws a serious issue that should or should not be given a great deal attention in those hearings.

Serious issue65%
Not serious issue23

As you may know, the Senate will hold hearings next week on the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general. Is Ashcroft's opposition to an African-American judge a serious issue that should or should not be given a great deal attention in those hearings.

Serious issue58%
Not serious issue33
Sampling error: +/-3% pts

As you may know, the Senate will hold hearings next week on the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general. Is Ashcroft's support from Christian conservatives is a serious issue that should or should not be given a great deal attention in those hearings.

Serious issue51%
Not serious issue37

As you may know, the Senate will hold hearings next week on the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general. Please tell me whether each of the following is a serious issue that should or should not be given a great deal attention in those hearings.

Stand on affirmative action61%
Stand on abortion53
Stand on gay rights46

Which of these positions best represents your views about abortion? A woman should be able to get an abortion if she decides she wants one no matter what the reason; Abortion should only be legal in certain circumstances such as when a woman's health is endangered or when the pregnancy results from rape or incest; Abortion should be illegal in all circumstances

In all cases35%
In certain circumstances50
Never12

Do you believe a woman should be able to get an abortion if she decides she wants one no matter what the reason?

Now35%
199544
199249
199043
198734

All in all, do you think black civil rights groups are asking for too much, too little, or just about what they should be asking for?

 Now1993
Too much26%43%
Too little1110%
About right5142%

All in all, do you think black civil rights groups are asking for too much?

Now26%
199343
196337

Do you think that someone who is homosexual can change their sexual orientation if they choose to do so, or don't you think so?

 Now1993
Yes42%51%
No4536%

Do you personally think that homosexual relationships between consenting adults is morally wrong, or not a moral issue?

Morally wrong55%
Not morally wrong40

Do you personally think that homosexual relationships between consenting adults is morally wrong?

Now55%
199453
197853

MORE STORIES:

Friday, January 12, 2001

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