WASHINGTON -- President-elect Barack Obama is entering the White House with an enormous reservoir of goodwill from an American public that is rooting for his success in the face of bad economic times, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.
The mood presents opportunities as well as perils for Mr. Obama, who confronts a series of challenges amid expectations he will handle them well.
See a breakdown of the WSJ/NBC News Poll's findings.
Overall, a majority of Americans are confident in Mr. Obama's ability to govern and unify the country, with many who didn't vote for him now seeing him in a positive light. The poll found that 73% of adults approve of the way he is handling the transition and his preparations for becoming president.
"So far so good," said Kathleen Broussard, a 25-year-old massage therapist from Dallas. She voted for Republican Sen. John McCain for president, but said that the day after the election she felt a sense of joy about Mr. Obama's victory that hasn't gone away. "I respect him. And we're all praying for the best. We definitely needed a change, and he's definitely that change."
Polling indicates that the nation is more unified around Mr. Obama than it was for either Bill Clinton in 1992 or George W. Bush in 2000. Americans say the challenges, too, are greater, with 77% of those surveyed predicting Mr. Obama will face bigger problems than most recent presidents have.
So far, Americans are buoyed. Mr. Obama is viewed favorably by more Americans than ever, and three of four say they can relate to him as their president.
Similarly, three of four say he has struck the right balance over how involved he should be in making policy before taking office. Two-thirds say they are generally pleased with the people he has appointed.
The mood will give Mr. Obama a longer-than-typical honeymoon, predicted Peter D. Hart, a Democratic pollster who conducts the survey with Republican Bill McInturff.
"All these expectations are sort of sky high prior to his inauguration," Mr. Hart said. "From that vantage point, he has a very long leash."
Much of the warmth toward Mr. Obama stems from frustration with the status quo, the poll suggests. Nearly half of those surveyed said 2008 will go down as one of the worst years in U.S. history -- 20 percentage points higher than the poll has found in past years. And 90% of Americans say the economy has gotten worse in the past 12 months.
Only one in five Americans approves of the job the federal government is doing in handling the financial crisis, with 71% disapproving.
With that backdrop, people are rooting for Mr. Obama, said Mr. McInturff, the Republican pollster. He compared it with the goodwill that surrounded Mr. Bush after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"During this moment of national psychological meltdown, people want the new president to be successful," he said. "We're seeing a president who is going to operate with a reservoir of goodwill."
The poll, conducted Dec. 5-8, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the full sample.
The survey finds that Americans expect Mr. Obama will succeed on a wide spectrum of issues, including improving America's standing in the world, improving the economy, repairing infrastructure and pulling out of Iraq.
The Obama team knows there is a danger in setting expectations too high and has repeatedly said it will take time to fix the nation's problems. Mr. Obama himself has said the economy will get worse before it gets better.
"It's gratifying and important to go in to meet these challenges with the support and goodwill of the American people, but we should never lose sight of the challenges, and it's going to take some time," said David Axelrod, a senior Obama adviser.
Another warning sign: The poll shows skepticism about significant new government spending, something Mr. Obama is gearing up to do in hopes of stimulating the economy. Asked to choose among a list of economic-stimulus ideas, there was significant support for tax cuts for the middle class, but little for the infrastructure spending Mr. Obama has proposed.
Still, Mr. Obama is viewed favorably by two-thirds of the public, up from 56% in mid-October. The portion of Americans who see him in a negative light has fallen to 16%. Even 29% of McCain voters now see Mr. Obama positively, compared with 9% in October. Republicans, small-town voters and conservatives have all warmed up to the president-elect since Election Day.
Nearly four in 10 people say they view Mr. Obama more favorably than they did on Election Day.
"I'm willing to give the guy a chance to show me," said Ron Woods, 66, who owns a construction consulting business in Marietta, Ga., and voted for Mr. McCain. "I like his bipartisan cabinet] picks, and if they can work together, we may see some real change."
People are more confident about Mr. Obama's success than they were about Mr. Clinton's after his first election in 1992. That year, 13% said they were "extremely confident" that Mr. Clinton had the right set of personal characteristic to be president, compared with 33% who say the same of Mr. Obama. Mr. Clinton scored the same 13% for having the right set of goals and policies, compared with 30% for Mr. Obama.
Just over half of Americans say they think 2009 will be a period of unity with Democrats and Republicans working together, compared with 27% who said the same at this point in 2004 after Mr. Bush was re-elected.
The survey also offers a final report card on Mr. Bush, who leaves office with near-record-low popularity. Just 18% say they are going to miss him when he is gone, half the number Mr. Clinton recorded on his way out of office. Asked to compare Mr. Bush with the past several presidents, half of those surveyed said he will go down as worse than most.
Asked what Mr. Bush's greatest achievement was, a plurality, 35%, cited keeping America safe from further terrorist attacks and 25% said removing Saddam Hussein from power. At the same time, the war in Iraq was judged his greatest failure by 35%, the most popular answer to that question.