WASHINGTON – Barack Obama is riding the crest of the best approval ratings of any president-elect in decades, according to a new poll as the next US leader relaxed on his Hawaii Christmas vacation.
Less than a month before Obama takes office in the teeth of the worst economic slump since the 1930s, a new CNN/Opinion Research survey found 82 percent of Americans approve of how he is handling his transition to power.
Obama's rating is higher than President George W. Bush's corresponding figure of 65 percent after the disputed 2000 election and higher than the 67 percent posted by Bill Clinton in 1992.
The poll was taken between Friday and Sunday, at the end of a period in which Obama has rolled out a high-profile cabinet line-up and hosted almost daily press conferences as economic turmoil deepens.
"Barack Obama is having a better honeymoon with the American public than any incoming president in the past three decades," said CNN polling director Keating Holland on the news channel's website.
"He's putting up better numbers, usually by double digits, than Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, or either George Bush on every item traditionally measured in transition polls."
The survey also found that 56 percent of those asked backed Obama's plans for a huge stimulus package to ignite the crisis-hit economy, with 42 percent against.
The president-elect was spending Christmas Eve at a beachfront compound in Hawaii with his family, a day after paying tribute to his grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him, but died aged 86 two days before he was elected in November.
Obama attended a private memorial for Dunham, whom he knew affectionately as "Toot," at a Honolulu church on Tuesday before her ashes were scattered by family and friends at an ocean overlook.
On Wednesday morning he visited Marine Corps Base Hawaii, where he worked out at a gym before greeting about 60 people.
"You guys got your Christmas lists all together?" he asked some children, after wishing everyone "Mele Kalikamaka," the Hawaiian translation of Merry Christmas.
He then headed to a local golf course for the second round of golf of his Hawaii break.
Despite his vacation, Obama on Wednesday was looking ahead to the grave challenges he will face after he is sworn in as president on January 20.
In a holiday radio and online video address, he exhorted the American people to unite in a new sense of national purpose to pull their nation out of its economic chasm.
The president-elect said the "season of giving" should be a time for Americans to unite in a new sense of national common purpose.
"We must all do our part to serve one another, to seek new ideas and new innovation and to start a new chapter for our great country," he said.
"That is the spirit that will guide my administration in the New Year. If the American people come together and put their shoulder to the wheel of history, then I know that we can put our people back to work and point our country in a new direction.
"That is how we will see ourselves through this time of crisis, and reach the promise of a brighter day."
Obama also paid tribute to US sailors, soldiers, airmen, marines and coast guard forces.
"In towns and cities across America, there is an empty seat at the dinner table; in distant bases and on ships at sea, our servicemen and women can only wonder at the look on their child's face as they open a gift back home."
Obama also remembered millions of Americans who do not have a job.
"Many more are struggling to pay the bills or stay in their homes. From students to seniors, the future seems uncertain."
The CNN poll seemed to indicate that public satisfaction with Obama has not been harmed by the distraction of the scandal over the Illinois Democratic governor's alleged bid to sell off the president-elect's former Senate seat.
An internal report on Tuesday cleared Obama and top aides of any improper contacts with accused governor Rod Blagojevich, who is facing corruption charges.
The case trained a spotlight on the tainted history of Illinois politics, where Obama made his name and tested his campaign vow of transparent leadership.
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