12/17/2009 - As with most presidents at the end of their first year in office, Barack Obama's approval ratings have slipped in 2009, though not as much as the clamor of his critics would suggest. He is almost exactly where Ronald Reagan was at the end of 1981, when he too was struggling with the bad economy he had inherited.
What's really exceptional at this stage of Obama's presidency is the extent to which the public has moved in a conservative direction on a range of issues. These trends have emanated as much from the middle of the electorate as from the highly energized conservative right. Even more notable, however, is the extent to which liberals appear to be dozing as the country has shifted on both economic and social issues.
Pew Research surveys throughout the year have found a downward slope in support both for an activist government generally and for a strong safety net for the needy, in particular. Chalk up these trends to a backlash against Obama policies that have expanded the role of government.
More surprising is declining support for gun control, a fall in support for abortion rights, and a rise in public doubts about global warming. Much of the change on these issues has come from independents, a category now populated by many former self-identified Republicans. But a lack of passion among Democrats – and liberals in particular – is also a part of the story of this conservative trend among the public at large.
Read Andrew Kohut's full commentary Obama's 2010 Challenge: Wake Up Liberals, Calm Down Independents on the Pew Research Center's Web site.