People like Obama, not his actions, polls show 

Gallup pollsters noted Obama's general standing with the public hasn't changed much since the spill began in April.

"People want to give the president the benefit of the doubt," said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida. "On specific issues they can be critical, but more generically people still like him."

The trends are similar to past public perceptions about Obama's handling of health care reform, when polls showed a majority of Americans disliked his policy -- but retained a positive view of the president overall.

The numbers underscore the president's still-potent personal appeal -- a trait the White House hopes to leverage in the fall elections, despite voter doubts about the economy and direction of the country.

Clark Ervin of the Aspen Institute, who worked for President George W. Bush and later served on Obama's transition team, said the president's steady job approval ratings suggest a bit of Teflon.

"The president is an enormously likable guy, similar to President Reagan," Ervin said. "The particulars are the particulars and people feel one way or another about specific things, but the overall perception of Obama is different and divorced from that."

Whether persistent doubts of his handling of key issues eventually erodes the overall support for Obama is something to watch, Ervin said.

A recent ABC News poll found Obama's job approval rating at 52 percent. But only 51 percent said they believe the president understands their problems -- down from 56 percent who said so in March.

"You wonder if there is a point at which the disconnect between Obama's personal popularity and the popularity of his handling of particular issues becomes more pronounced," Ervin said.

Several experts noted a similar dynamic that played out for former President Clinton. While beset by criticism for his conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair, the president's popularity remained incongruously high.

The ABC News poll found 49 percent disapproved of Obama's handling of the BP oil spill, to 44 percent who approved.

Similarly, the public was split, 50 percent to 49 percent, over his handling of the economy, according to ABC News.

"The thing I have always found interesting about the Obama figures is that through thick and thin, and good news and bad news, his polls really do reflect a fifty-fifty type of country," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution.

A recent American Research Group poll found a starker divide, however, with 44 percent saying they approve of Obama's handling of the economy, to 53 percent who said they disapprove.

The same poll found higher marks for Obama's job approval overall, with 49 percent saying they liked the job he is doing to 48 percent who did not.

Hess said if Obama can keep his overall approval around 50 percent, he is in good shape for re-election.

"When you start out with a nation roughly half on your side, you don't have to pull a lot of people over," he said.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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