While the public’s overall approval of the president has shifted little over the last few months, assessments of Barack Obama’s handling of the economy are now less positive than they were in mid-April. A slim majority (52%) continues to give Obama high marks for his handling of the economy (compared with 60% in April); four-in-ten (40%) now say they disapprove of the job he is doing on the economy.

Substantial party differences remain in views of Obama’s handling of the economy, although the decline in approval is seen across the board. Fully 80% of Democrats approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, compared with 50% of independents and just 20% of Republicans.

Views of Obama’s handling of the economy differ little by education or income. However, Americans with annual family incomes of less than $30,000 now hold considerably less favorable opinions of Obama’s handling of the economy than they did in April. Today, a slim majority (53%) of those in this group approve of the president’s handling of the economy, down from 77% approval a few months ago.

Most Expect Obama to Improve Economy

Americans’ optimism about Barack Obama’s economic policies remains high, despite the decline in his ratings on the economy. As was the case in April, about two-thirds (65%) say they are optimistic that Obama’s policies will improve economic conditions in the country; a slimmer majority (55%) say they think his policies will reduce the budget deficit over the long term.

Partisan differences persist in these views, as Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to say they are optimistic Obama’s policies will improve economic conditions (85% vs. 43%), while 63% of independents hold this view. Similarly, while 78% of Democrats expect Obama’s policies will ultimately reduce the budget deficit, only 31% of Republicans and 52% of independents say the same.

Older Americans are less optimistic on both of these measures than are younger people: While 68% of those younger than 65 are optimistic about the impact of Obama’s policies on the economy, only 54% of older Americans are similarly optimistic. A similar gap (58% to 43%) exists on the question of the budget deficit.

While public optimism about Obama’s policies remains high, there has been little shift in the perceived impact of Obama’s economic policies to date. As was the case in April, about a quarter (26%) say these policies have made economic conditions better, while 16% say they have made conditions worse. However, a majority of the public (53%) say these policies have not yet had an effect or that it is too soon to tell.

Top Concern: Too Much Spending

When asked if they had specific concerns about Obama’s economic policies, the cost of these policies is mentioned most frequently. Nearly a quarter (24%) of the public cites concerns about spending, the debt or the deficit; 13% mention a policy of Obama’s, with 5% specifically citing economic bailouts.

Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats (36% vs. 14%) to express concerns about the cost of Obama’s policies or their impact on the debt or deficit. About a quarter of independents (26%) raise concerns about spending or debt.

Concern that Obama’s policies will expand the scope of government or lead to socialism is cited by just 4% overall. Among Republicans, 10% cite concerns relating to the scope of government, which is less than a third of the proportion of Republicans citing excessive spending or debt (36%).

When asked about what, if anything, makes them hopeful about Obama’s economic policies, 21% mention aspects of the process or Obama’s efforts, while 16% point to specific policies or plans. A majority of Republicans (53%) say nothing about Obama’s plans makes them hopeful, compared with 30% of independents and just 14% of Democrats.

Obama’s Job on Banks, Automakers

While slightly more approve than disapprove of his handling of the problems of major banks and financial institutions (50% vs. 40%), the public is nearly evenly divided on the administration’s handling of General Motors and Chrysler (47% approve, 44% disapprove).

While about a third of Republicans (34%) approve of the way Obama had handled problems with banks and financial institutions, an even smaller percentage (26%) approves of his handling of automakers’ problems. Large majorities of Democrats approve of Obama’s handling of both issues (67% banks, 65% automakers), while fewer than half of independents approve of Obama’s job performance on problems with banks (49%) and automakers (45%).

Divisions over Stimulus and Spending

A majority (55%) of Americans approve of Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package, which was enacted in February.

Substantial majorities of both liberal (86%) and conservative and moderate (75%) Democrats approve of the stimulus package, while four-in-ten (40%) moderate and liberal Republicans and just 20% of conservative Republicans do so. As with other economic policies, independents are divided; a slim majority (52%) approves of the stimulus package.

There is broad support across the political spectrum for the government to provide billions to substantially increase spending on roads, bridges and other public works projects. But other major programs – efforts to keep financial institutions secure and Chrysler and G.M afloat – are far more contentious.

Sizable majorities of liberal Democrats (68%) and moderate and conservative Democrats (61%) approve of the government spending billions to keep banks and financial institutions secure. About half of independents (48%) and moderate and liberal Republicans (50%) agree. Only about a quarter of conservative Republicans (28%) approve of spending billions to prop up financial institutions.

Just 36% of Americans approve of spending billions to keep U.S. automakers in business. Only about half of liberal and conservative and moderate Democrats (47%) – and far fewer independents (35%) and Republicans (22%) – favor spending billions to keep the automakers in business.

Those without college experience and those with yearly incomes of less than $30,000 are somewhat more supportive of this policy than those with greater education and higher annual incomes. Regional differences are also evident, with slightly higher support among those in the Northeast than among those in the South and West.