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America's opinion on Washington before the Iowa caucuses

Which political party does America prefer?

Jeremy Hobson: Now, there was one subsidy that Congress did extend last week -- the one that goes into all of our paychecks. I'm talking, of course, about the payroll tax cut.

After a long and tense back-and-forth, House Republicans finally agreed to extend the cut as part of a package that also extends long-term unemployment benefits for the next two months. Which brings us to a segment we call Attitude Check.

Frank Newport from the polling firm Gallup is with us now to talk about the winners and losers from the payroll tax debate. Hi Frank.

Frank Newport: Hello.

Hobson: So how do people feel about this end-of-the-year showdown in Washington?

Newport: Well, it can't do much more harm to their image of Congress in general, which on 10 different measures was at record lows this past year. But clearly, Americans probably are happier that the two-month extension was passed than had it not, and had the payroll tax cut and the unemployment benefits disappeared on Jan. 1st.

Hobson: And is there a difference in people's mind between Republicans and Democrats on that front?

Newport: This week, we went into the field and asked Americans: Who do you have more confidence in when it comes to the negotiations over payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits? Forty-one percent say they would have more confidence in the Dems to handle it, and 34 percent Republicans -- although a quarter of Americans say they don't have confidence in any of the above and are withholding judgment.

Hobson: Now it does seem like every time President Obama gets some good political news, it bumps up his numbers for a little bit and then they come right back down again. Is that going to happen this time, do you think, or is this going to last for longer?

Newport: It's already happened. The classic rally effect. Obama's ratings did jump up in our Gallup poll. Just right about Christmas, Obama's job approval rating went up to 47 percent -- that's the highest reading we have had since last summer. But his ratings have already come back down and now they're back in the lower 40s, about where they were.

Hobson: OK, well I don't think many politicians in Washington are going to make it onto your most admired men and women of 2011 list, but that's where I want to go next because I'm told there are some business leaders on that list.

Newport: This year for the first time in our history -- and this goes back to 1948 in asking Americans who's the man living anywhere in the world that you most admire -- we have three business leaders on the list this year. And I might ask you: Who do you think they are?

Hobson: I would have to guess that Warren Buffett is probably on that list.

Newport: Very good, you get a gold star for that. In fact, Warren Buffett -- this is the first time he's been on the list; he's number five. He's followed by Donald Trump -- and I assume we consider him a businessman, he's an entertainer and a wannabe politician, but underneath it all, he's a real estate mogul, no doubt about that. And for the 13th time on the list, Bill Gates is among the top 10 most admired men that Americans tell us on our list.

Hobson: And what about the most admired women of 2011?

Newport: Oprah Winfrey appears second on the list, behind Hillary Clinton (Hillary Clinton wins). Is she a businesswoman? Well, she's an entertainer, but she's worth hundreds of millions, has her own network. Not a classic CEO like Carly Fiorina or someone like that, but nevertheless, she's second on the list.

Hobson: All right, well Frank, I want to ask you one more thing while we've got you here, and that is: The Iowa caucuses are just right around the corner -- what's going to happen?

Newport: It's just very difficult to try to predict what's going to happen. One thing we do know for sure that voters in Iowa, despite being conservative or being driven by the economy and jobs, and of course nationally, when we look at the data, it's going to be the economy and the perceptions of who can best handle the economy that we still think is going to drive the ultimate winner of the GOP nomination.

Hobson: It all comes back to the economy. Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of Gallup; our partnership with them is called Attitude Check. Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: My pleasure.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.
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