People (still) really like President Obama

WASHINGTON — Nearly six in 10 Americans have a favorable impression of President Barack Obama in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, numbers that suggest that even as the chief executive engages in a series of thorny policy fights his personal appeal remains strongly intact.

Fifty-seven percent of people view Obama favorably in the Washington Post-ABC survey taken March 20-24 while 41 percent regard him unfavorably. Those numbers are remarkably similar to the 60 percent favorable/37 percent unfavorable ratings for Obama in Post-ABC polling conducted in late January — just weeks after the president had been inaugurated for a second term.

The high regard with which the public holds Obama personally stands in contrast to the more middling job ratings for the president. In the latest Post-ABC national poll — conducted earlier this month — 50 percent approved of how he was handling his job while 46 percent disapproved.

That discrepancy isn’t new for Obama. Throughout his presidency, his personal favorable numbers have far outstripped his job approval ratings. In short: People like him (and his image as a father and husband) more than they like his policies. That likability factor shouldn’t be undersold, however, as it played a central role in Obama winning a second term despite a scuffling economy and negative ratings for his efforts to fix it.

A look at exit polling from the 2012 election tells the story. One in five voters said that a candidate who “cares about people like me” was their top priority in making up their mind in the contest; Obama won 81 percent among that voting bloc.

What’s clear from Obama’s continued strong favorability ratings is that he has, to date, not seen much damage to his personal image from the contentiousness between the White House and Congress over sequestration and guns (and, to a lesser extent, immigration).

What’s not clear is whether Obama’s favorability numbers grant him a political upper hand as negotiations over the that trio of issues heat up. In other words: Does the fact that people still like Obama matter when it comes to divisive policy issues? Or does the fact that Obama’s job approval is hovering right at 50 percent matter more?

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This poll was conducted for The Washington Post and ABC News by telephone March 20-24 among a random national sample of 1,014 adults, including users of both conventional and cellular phones. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS of Media, Pa. Produced for The Washington Post by Capital Insight.

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