Poll position: Where does Obama stand?

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Story highlights

  • 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

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.

Obama approval rating edging down

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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.

      2013 State of the Union

    • WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12:  U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Facing a divided Congress, Obama focused his speech on new initiatives designed to stimulate the U.S. economy and said, "It?s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth".  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

      The heart of President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday was the same focus that's driven every State of the Union of his presidency.
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      President Barack Obama launched three days of campaign-style speeches with a visit to a manufacturing plant that he said epitomized his proposals for job creation.
    • President Barack Obama is greeted before his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, February 12.

      CNN asked viewers to post a #tweetoftheunion on Twitter summarizing Obama's State of the Union speech.
    • As with any State of the Union address, President Barack Obama had several audiences and there were multiple aims for the White House.
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      Claiming Barack Obama thinks a "free enterprise economy" is "the cause of our problems" -- not, as he sees it, the solution -- Sen. Marco Rubio argued that the president's proposals would hurt middle class citizens more than help them.
    •  	SPANISH FORK, UT - NOVEMBER 24: A car makes it's way up U.S. Highway 6 as several 2.1 mega watt wind powered turbines owned by Edison Mission Energy, sit a the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon November 24, 2008 in Spanish Fork, Utah. Each turbine is 300 feet tall, with three 150 foot blades. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior, Michael D. Olsen, said the potential for production of wind energy on public lands in the West is 'tremendous,' with the alternative energy source already accounting for the fastest growing energy sector in the U.S. Last year the U.S. saw a 46 percent increase in wind capacity and $9 billion in new investments, he said. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

      President Barack Obama talked up alternative energy. Not only did he tout the solar and natural gas industries' recent gains, he also talked up the amount of wind energy that's now fueling the country.
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    • First Lady Michelle Obama, center, is recognized by the audience and special guests surrounding her before President Barack Obama's 2013 SOTU. Front row, left to right: Sgt. Sheena Adams, Nathaniel and Cleopatra Pendelton, Michelle Obama, Menchu de Luna Sanchez and Jill Biden. Second row, left to right: Governor John Kitzhaber, Deb Carey, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amanda McMillan, and Lieutenant Brian Murphy.

      Earlier presidents delivered a written message to be read to Congress before the tradition became at TV event.