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Poll: What Americans think about Obama and the issues

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The first BBC World News America/TheHarris Poll of American public opinion addresses five topics related to the new Obama administration — public priorities among all the issues facing the president, climate change, Iraq, Afghanistan and America's reputation around the world.

This poll was conducted among 2,848 adults in the United States who were surveyed online by Harris Interactive between January 12 and 19, 2009.

Health Care Tops List of Important Issues to be Addressed Apart from the Economy

When asked about the most important issue other than the economy that President should address, Americans think of many, and there is no consensus. Those interviewed were not shown or read a list of issues. Health care, mentioned by 21%, tops the list by a wide margin, with many more mentions than the next issues on the list, "the war" (6%), "the war in Iraq" (5%), employment/jobs (5%), immigration (4%) and education (4%).

Health care was more likely to be mentioned by Democrats (22%) than Republicans (15%) and by Baby Boomers (26%) and Matures, aged 64 and older (24%) than by Echo Boomers (15%) or Generation X (17%).

Climate Change: Modest Majority Believes Obama Will be more Successful than Bush

A slender 52% majority of all adults polled thinks that President Obama will be more successful than the Bush administration in addressing climate change and only 10% think he will be less successful. However, fully 38% think he will be neither more nor less successful, which suggests that many people recognize how difficult it will be to slow global warming.

71% of Democrats but only 23% of Republicans believe President Obama will be more successful than President Bush.

Half of All Adults Think Obama Should be Willing to Keep Combat Troops in Iraq Longer than 16 Months if Military Commanders Advise It

A key plank in candidate Obama's election campaign, particular in the primary battles with Hillary Clinton, was his opposition to the war in Iraq and his call for the withdrawal of all combat troops within 16 months. This new poll finds that only just over a third of the public (36%) believes he should keep to this time table even if his military commanders advise against it. This finding means that the president has some political wiggle room to delay the departure of all combat troops.

Only One Third of Americans Support President's Plan to Increase Number of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

President Obama is riding high in the polls and is starting his presidency with widespread public support. One area where he will be pushing against public opinion, unless he can change it, is Afghanistan. He has proposed sending an additional 30,000 or more troops to support the U.S. and allied troops there now.

Currently only 33% of all adults polled, and only 27% of Democrats, support this increase. Many people think the U.S. should either keep the same level of troops (21%) or cut the number there (27%).

Very Large Majority Think It's Important that Obama Should Work to Improve U.S. Image

One of the frequent criticisms of President Bush was that his administration damaged the global standing and reputation of the United States. Three-quarters of all adults polled (74%) believe that this happened. Almost half (47%) of Republicans polled agree. Polls around the world have shown that what people think of the U.S. is strongly linked to what they think of the president and his policies.

Almost everyone polled (83%) believes it is important (including 56% who think it very important) that President Obama should work to improve the U.S. image around the world.

It should be noted here that international reactions to Barack Obama's election have been overwhelmingly positive. Recent Harris Polls in the five biggest European countries have found that President Obama is even more popular there than in the United States.


This BBC World News America/The Harris Poll(R) was conducted online within the United States January 12 and 19, 2009, among 2,848 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online. Full data tables and methodology are available at www.harrisinteractive.com