Barack Obama Faces Historically High Expectations as President

A whopping 83 percent of Americans approve of how Obama has handled the transition.

By + More

As President-elect Barack Obama is being sworn in, Americans' expectations for the nation's 44th president are, like the estimated million-strong crowd at his inauguration, at a historic high.

Obama has enjoyed historically high approval ratings over the course of his transition. One Gallup Ppoll last week found that 83 percent of Americans approved of how he was handling the transition, compared with 61 percent for George W. Bush in 2001 and 68 percent for Bill Clinton in 1993.

Now, that approval seems to have translated into optimism—even against the background of an economic recession and two wars. A poll released today found that 72 percent of Americans think the nation will be better off in four years than it is now, a much higher proportion than at any time since the eve of Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration. (Then, only 51 percent of Americans said the same.)

Some of that sentiment could spring from Americans' belief that the country's fiscal crisis must turn around. But expectations for Obama himself are also high, with 62 percent of Americans expecting Obama to be an outstanding or above-average president. Only 11 percent think he'll be below average or poor. More than three times that proportion—36 percent—thought George W. Bush would be below average in 2001.

Americans particularly see Obama as a "uniter," with 4 in 5 saying that is the term that applies to him, rather than "divider." In 2001, 58 percent said the same of George W. Bush. And nearly 9 in 10 Americans are also confident in Obama's ability to work with Congress to attain goals, compared with the just under three quarters who said the same of Bush.

With attaining the presidency behind him today, therefore, it seems Obama will have to turn to that new, and even bigger, task: being able to live up to Americans' expectations.