President Obama’s Political Project

With so much of the public’s attention on President Obama’s economic recovery package and plans for rescuing the financial system, Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner decided to step back and ask a more enduring question: what is the president’s mission and larger mandate for the country, as seen by the public. The president’s approval rating is now nearing 60 percent and his personal favorability is already there, but more important may be the public’s emerging understanding of Obama’s political project, goals and mandate.

Not surprising, when forced to choose voters says that returning the economy to sound footing and creating quality jobs is Obama’s top goal. But more surprising, given the dominance of the stimulus story, is that voters see through this to other goals – which are seen as somewhat more important to the Obama project – and thus give the presidency definition beyond the recovery. For the public, at the heart of the Obama project is a turn away from greed and the super-rich and toward the middle class and its values, with greater opportunity, security and rising prosperity.

Equally surprising, given the focus on the economy, is the importance that voters say Obama places on restoring respect for American around the world. The view that he wants to change how America relates to the world is nearly as strong as the perception that he is committed to greater equity and restoring the middle class and ranks above short-term job creation. This response underscores the scope of what voters think Obama is trying to achieve.

So, while the first weeks of the Obama presidency have focused on the first priority, getting the initial parts of Obama’s economic plan into place, the public is very attentive to the larger character of his project and how it can change the American society and America’s position in the world. Over 60 percent of voters say Obama and the Democrats are making progress addressing the country’s problems, twice the number who say they are faltering, but that judgment and the character of the Obama political project will emerge in the struggles ahead.

This memo is based on two national surveys of 1000 likely voters conducted for Democracy Corps by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. Most data comes from the first, conducted January 26-29, 2009. Updated data on Obama’s standing comes from the second, conducted February 9-10, 2009.

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