Last November, immediately following the presidential election, Wade Clark Roof, director of the Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life and I asked more than 3,300 likely voters what "qualities do you think the country needs most from the new president" and, "what actions would you like to see accomplished most by the new president and Congress?"
The top three qualities they gave: honesty, integrity and leadership. The top three issues: the economy, ending the war in Iraq, and health care reform.
From Tuesday, April 28 through Thursday April 30, 2009, Professor Roof and I put our own "First 100 Days" poll into the field asking voters to grade President Obama, as well as congressional Republicans and Democrats on those same qualities and issues they considered important from November, 2008. Here's just a snapshot of what we found:
When asked to rate the performance of President Obama in his first 100 Days, more than 3,300 likely voters gave him 54% positive job approval. Congressional Democrats scored only 38% positive numbers and Republicans came in at only 22% positive numbers.
When asked to rate Mr. Obama on the top three qualities voters said were important to them last November, 58% gave Mr. Obama positive marks for his honesty and integrity, while 59% gave him positive marks for his leadership.
The Capps survey was conducted by Zogby, International in Utica, New York. The poll included 3,367 likely voters and carries a margin of error of +/- 1.7 percentage points.
When asked to rate Mr. Obama's leadership on the top three issues voters said were most important, the president was given just under 50% positive numbers on the economy while "bringing the troops home from the Middle East" received 56% positive numbers. In rating Mr. Obama in the area of health care reform, voters gave him a positive rating of 46% while 49% gave him a negative score.
However, Congress remains deeply unloved by voters. Rating "transparency," another quality Americans said was important, Congress received only 18% positive marks, while Mr. Obama received 50% positive marks. And when it comes to honesty and integrity, Congress received only 23 % and 22% positive numbers compared to Mr. Obama's 58% in both categories.
When asked to rate Mr. Obama's leadership in "working with Congress," 63% gave him a positive score. In "working with the president," Congress was given a 45% positive rating.
When it comes to "restoring trust in government" Mr. Obama received 50% positive numbers compared to only 18% positives for Congress.
While the "First 100 Days" has become more of a tradition than a true benchmark of accomplishment, the Capps Center survey asked voters to grade Mr. Obama and Congress on the qualities and issues they considered most important rather than what the media thinks.
At this point in time, a majority of Americans have confidence in Mr. Obama. However, the next seven to nine months will be particularly critical. The outcomes of Mr. Obama's economic policies, as well as the specifics of his health care plan will play a large part in whether Americans continue that level of confidence.
Jim Lichtman commentaries on ethics can be found at www.ethicsStupid.com.