November 10th, 2008
04:00 PM ET
10 years ago

Poll: Deep public pessimism confronts incoming administration

Obama and Bush met at the White house Monday.

Obama and Bush met at the White house Monday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - As President-elect Obama visits the White House, a new national poll illustrates the daunting challenges he faces next year.

Only 16 percent of those questioned in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday say things are going well in the country today. That's an all-time low. Eighty-three percent say things are going badly, which is an all-time high.

Watch: The public's mood is grim

"The challenge Obama faces has never been greater. No president has ever come to office during a time when the public's mood has been this low. In the 34 years that this question has been asked, the number who say things are going well has never fallen below 20 percent," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

The 83 percent saying things are going badly is "more than in 1992, when the first President Bush was ousted because of the economy, stupid. That's more than in 1980, when President Carter got fired after the malaise crisis. That's more than in 1975, after Watergate and the Nixon pardon," says CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

So far, Obama seems to be meeting the public's high expectations. Two-thirds of all Americans have a positive view of what Barack Obama has done since he was elected president and three-quarters think that Obama will do a good job as president.

"Obama has the support of virtually every African-American in the poll, but he also gets high marks from a solid majority of whites," says Holland.

But that optimism doesn't hide what appears to be concern that most people don't have a clear idea of what Obama would do to improve the economy. Six in ten say that they don't clearly know what Obama would do to improve the economic situation.

The all-time low on the public's mood may have something to do with another finding in the poll, that the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the most unpopular president in the six decades since presidential approval ratings were first measured.

Seventy-six percent of those questioned in the survey released Monday disapprove of how George W. Bush is handling his job as president. That's an all-time high in CNN polling, or in Gallup polling dating back to World War II.

"No other president's disapproval rating has gone higher than 70 percent. Bush has managed to do that three times so far this year," said Holland. "That means that Bush is now more unpopular than Richard Nixon was when he resigned from office during Watergate with a 66 percent disapproval rating."

Prior to President Bush, the record holder for presidential disapproval was Harry Truman, with a 67 percent disapproval rating in January of 1952, his last full year in office.

As Obama visits the White House, 57 percent of those questioned think the transfer of presidential power will be relatively easy and free from tension, with 39 percent saying the transition will be difficult.

"A majority say that the transition from Bush to Obama will go smoothly, although nearly one in four predict a lot of tension between Bush aides and Obama aides in the next few weeks. That sentiment is highest among Democrats, but even among them, a majority believes that the transition will be relatively easy," Holland said.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday with 1,246 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

soundoff (142 Responses)
  1. 60 year old, white female for Obama

    "seems to be meeting" with a 68% positive rating and a 75% feeling he will do a good job. Truth be told these are the highest of any incoming presiden since polls started being taken in 1920.

    Why always a negative spin on things CNN???

    November 10, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  2. Stephanie

    Who are the 16%? Where do they live, and where do they work?

    November 10, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  3. NYer

    Of course the public is already scared, BARRY has NO IDEA what to do and is a far left loon! The economy is in the tank and we have a war on two fronts, and BARRY's first order of business is closing Gitmo. What a MORON! I wonder what his second order of business will be? Most likely transexuals in the military and hand outs for losers who wont work... Looks like BARRYLAND is starting to take form...

    November 10, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  4. PJ

    Thank you Stephanie. I was just wondering the same thing myself. How can any percentage of the country think things are going well!?

    November 10, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  5. Debbie

    The title of this entry is grossly misleading. It suggests that the pessimism is over the incoming administration, not the current outlook.

    Cnn, you should change that.

    November 10, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  6. Mike in Jacksonville

    Things can only get better.

    November 10, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  7. Hilary

    Love the picture. Bush looks like he's about to cry.

    November 10, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  8. FreeNLovIt

    Learn from the past, but dont stay too long there. We need to move into the future. Again, like I said, you cant change the past, but WE can CHANGE the future.

    November 10, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  9. jm for sc

    Enough said Stephanie, I am wondering the same thing. You can be sure it is the very weathly people who would never be affected by the economy.

    November 10, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  10. Hans-Erik Iken

    I guess the majority of the people believe (rightly) that Obama cannot be worse then Bush.

    The real test comes after a year in office or so, lets all hope the ratings will be as high as they are now for Obama. Then at least we know everybody is better off.

    November 10, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  11. Greed is not good

    The cynics need to take a chill pill and give the man some time.

    Obama hasn't even taken office yet and already the GOP is trying to pick a battle every single time he does something.

    November 10, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  12. Chuck

    For as screwed up as the last 8 years have been, we are lucky it just is pessimism, and not downright panic. The country is just in a mess. Today the worker's of America lost another 20,000 jobs. Can't you still impeach Bush for total incompetence. Or mayber yet treason.

    November 10, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  13. Kodi Kodie

    The picture tells a thousand words. Obama taking charge, Bush listening. Bush looks like he's overwhelmed.

    November 10, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  14. Ray, Calif

    Anybody remembers Pres. Bush had a high approval rating of 80% at one point in time. The question will be in 4 yrs are you better off now than you were 4 yrs ago? The president can not pick his own destiny at times but he can try to affect it? Will the buck stop here with president Obama? Time will tell and history will say. Past is prologue according to Joe Biden so in 4yrs. we will have a past to determine (for good or bad) who to elect next?

    November 10, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  15. dave harlow

    I think if you keep saying it over and over... then, Obama can take a larger credit... is that whats happening here?

    November 10, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  16. Lynn, Sioux Falls, SD

    My guess is that Bush has NO CLUE about what President-Elect Obama is even talking about!!! How SAD is that?!!?!?

    November 10, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  17. Wisconsin Vet

    ok I voted for Obama and i expect him to change the current status of the nation's woes.

    This is a good start. but yet only a start I am not expecting thing to be fixed in your first 100 days or even in the first 3yrs. But I do expext Pres-elect Obama to work on changing the flow of the government.

    Oh and you GOP that plan to hate and throw stones in every plan that does not line your pockets. The News eye will be on you like a hawk and so will the people.

    November 10, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  18. Bobbie in Maryland

    We support you, Mr. president-Elect! We KNOW things will be getting better soon. (No miracles, but we are ALL in this TOGETHER)!

    November 10, 2008 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  19. Laverne

    I think Bush is actually relieved that Obama won vs. McCain. He knows McCain just about as good as anyone and knows that McCain was not the right person to take charge at a time such as this.

    November 10, 2008 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  20. Brian from Fort Mill, SC

    I'd love to meet the 16% who think the country is doing well.

    I wouldn't be surprise if the majority of them have the last name of Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld!

    The rest of us believe that the country is going down the toilet.

    Where's Joe the Plumber when you need him?

    November 10, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  21. ChicagoJosh

    I love this picture. It seems Obama is telling Bush what we've been trying to shout the last 8 years. And Bush looks like this is the first time he's ever heard a dissenting opinion. He looks like someone just told him for the first time that the earth is not flat.

    November 10, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  22. Marc

    The 16%? Alaska. No inner city issues and huge royalties from the oil companies.

    The good thing is that it shouldn't take much from Obama to feel a whole lot better.

    November 10, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  23. Rick

    Give Obama a few months in the white house and these will seem like the good old days.

    November 10, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  24. Brian from Fort Mill, SC

    My guess is that 16% of the American population is mentally ill. That would explain it.

    November 10, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  25. Jaye

    We will get through this turmoil and this time of sadness and despair if we band together as a nation.
    And if the republican talking heads would stop with all the backbiting a lot more would get done.

    November 10, 2008 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
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