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Poll position: Where does Obama stand?

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
updated 1:38 PM EST, Tue February 12, 2013
  • Obama's approval rating has dropped a few points in polls since his inauguration
  • His numbers stand well below those of his predecessors at similar points in their terms
  • While Obama's numbers have slipped, they're still well above those of Congress
  • Two-thirds of those surveyed say they'll watch speech, but there's a partisan divide

Watch CNN's comprehensive coverage of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address starting at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday on CNN TV. Follow online at or via CNN's apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. Follow our real-time State of the Union live blog at

Washington (CNN) -- It's arguably the most important poll number for any president: his approval rating.

As President Barack Obama gets ready to give the first State of the Union address of his second term, his approval rating stands at 50%, with 43% saying they disapprove of his performance in the White House, according to a new CNN Poll of Polls, which averages the latest non-partisan, live operator national surveys.

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Here's where the president stands as he prepares to lay out his second-term agenda:

Obama vs. Obama

The president's 50%-43% approval/disapproval rating is down just a bit from a 52%-43% approval/disapproval numbers in a CNN Poll of Polls in mid-January, just before his second inauguration.

"Historically speaking, it's not a surprise for a second-term president to lose a couple of points in the aftermath of his second inauguration," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

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Obama approval rating edging down

Obama vs. predecessors

How does Obama stack up against the most recent two-term presidents as they gave the first State of the Union address of their second term? George W. Bush stood at 51% in January 2005 and Bill Clinton was at 62% in January 1997, according to CNN/Gallup/USA Today polling.

Ronald Reagan had a 64% approval rating in January 1985 and two-thirds of Americans approved of Richard Nixon in January 1973, according to Gallup surveys. Nixon's high rating came just as he announced the end to the Vietnam War.

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Obama vs. Congress

While the president's approval rating is down slightly from last month and is lower than his immediate predecessors at the start of their second terms, his numbers are still far above both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

According to a Quinnipiac University national poll conducted earlier this month, 33% approved of the job Democrats in Congress were doing. While that doesn't look very good, it's better than congressional Republicans -- their approval rating in the survey stood at 19%.

Clint Eastwood isn't satisfied with Congress

Priorities, priorities, priorities

So what do Americans want to hear from the president in his State of the Union address? According to that same Quinnipiac poll, 35% said Obama should focus on the economy, with 20% saying the federal budget deficit is most important to them.

Gun policy came in third at 15%, followed by health care at 12%, foreign policy and immigration each at 5% and the environment at 3%.

As for the top concern, 53% of those questioned said the economy is still in a recession, even though the recession technically ended 3½ years ago.

Democrats, Republicans suggest priorities ahead of State of the Union

Who will be watching?

Two-thirds of those surveyed in the Quinnipiac poll said they were very or somewhat likely to watch the State of the Union -- that includes 86% of Democrats, 64% of independents and 46% of Republicans.

Besides the expected partisan divide, there's a slight gender gap, with 71% of women and 59% of men saying they are very or somewhat likely to watch the prime-time speech.

The new CNN Poll of Polls, compiled and released on Monday, averages the three nonpartisan, live-operator national surveys conducted in the past two weeks: Gallup's daily tracking poll (from February 8 to 10); Fox News (February 4 to 6), and Quinnipiac University (January 30 to February 4). Since the Poll of Polls is an average of multiple surveys, it does not have a sampling error.

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