Poll: 50% say Obama’s been a success

Published 6:00 AM EDT, Thu March 19, 2015
(CNN) —  

As the political world’s focus begins to turn to the race to succeed President Barack Obama, a new CNN/ORC poll finds Americans are split over whether Obama’s time in office has been a success. But they are now more likely than at any point during his tenure to say things in the country are going well.

In February 2009, shortly after Obama took office, 21% of Americans said things in the country were going well, 79% that they were going badly.

SEE: The complete CNN/ORC poll

The new poll finds 53% saying things are going well, 46% badly. That’s the highest share saying things are going well that CNN/ORC polls have found during Obama’s time in office, though it is not significantly higher than the 52% saying things were going well in November.

The rising optimism about how the country is doing comes after several months of strong economic news. The current unemployment rate of 5.5% is the lowest of his presidency, and although average gas prices – often closely tied with public perceptions of the economy – are slightly higher than they were a few months ago, they remain lower than they were a year ago.

Assessing Obama’s presidency overall, 50% consider his time in office a success, 47% a failure. And for those who say his time in office has been a failure, 37% say that’s been because of his own actions, while just 9% attribute it to Congress blocking the President from action.

Perceptions of the success of Obama’s presidency after six years in office falls in between ratings of his two immediate predecessors. Just 39% said they considered George W. Bush’s presidency a success in January 2007, 55% considered it a failure. Bill Clinton, by contrast, was broadly deemed successful, with 77% calling his time in office a success as of January 1999 and 20% calling it a failure.

READ: Hillary Clinton still tops in 2016

Although the share calling Obama’s presidency a success and thinks things in the country are going well are similar, the two ratings aren’t exactly aligned. Republicans are more likely to say things are going well (33%) than that Obama’s been a success (12%), while independents call Obama a success (50%) about as often as they say things are going well (47%). Among Democrats, 79% say things are going well, 81% that Obama’s presidency has been a success.

Obama’s job approval rating has held relatively steady over the last few CNN/ORC polls, with 46% in the new poll approving of the way he’s handling his job and 51% disapproving.

Perceptions of Obama as a strong and decisive leader, as someone who can manage the government effectively and can get the economy moving again have also recently rebounded somewhat. The share who see Obama as a strong leader has grown from 48% last July to 53% now. On the economy, 51% see Obama as someone who can get it moving again, up from 46% a year ago. More say Obama cannot manage the government effectively than think he can (52% say he cannot, 46% that he can), but even that’s an improvement from July, when 57% said Obama couldn’t effectively manage government.

Those increases in positive perceptions of Obama stem largely from changes among independents and among those under age 50. In all three cases, his ratings among both Republicans and Democrats as well as those age 50 or older have held steady.

On two other measures without recent trend, Obama faces negative ratings. Majorities say he is not an effective world leader (53%) and that he has not brought the kind of change the country needs (56%). In February 2009, about a month after Obama took office, 69% thought he would be able to bring the kind of change the country needed; now, just 42% think he’s succeeded.

Personal impressions of the President are better. A narrow majority, 52%, has a favorable opinion of Obama, while 46% have an unfavorable view.

The leadership representing both parties in Congress fares worse than the President. Nearly two-thirds (63%) disapprove of the Democratic leaders in Congress, while 74% disapprove of the Republican leadership. That’s worse than in March 2011, when 64% said they disapproved of GOP leadership a few months after the party took control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The CNN/ORC International poll was conducted by telephone March 13-15 among a 1,009 adult Americans. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.