NASHVILLE - Fifty-three percent of Tennesseans said they approve of President Barack Obama's job performance so far, according to a new poll.
But at the same time, nearly one in six who were polled openly admitted to making racial jokes about America's first black president.
However, 57 percent said such jokes would "definitely not be humorous," while 21 percent said they "probably" would not consider them funny.
The survey of 629 adults, conducted by Middle Tennessee State University's College of Mass Communications, also found Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen's job approval rating sinking from 58 percent last fall to 52 percent.
Respondents had a dimmer view of the Tennessee General Assembly. Job approval ratings for lawmakers fell from 39 percent to 34 percent, the poll shows.
The telephone survey was conducted Feb. 16-28 and has a plus-or-minus 4 percent margin of error.
While Mr. Obama, a Democrat, overwhelmingly lost Tennessee last fall to Republican John McCain (56.89 percent to 41.82 percent), 59 percent or respondents expressed confidence in the Obama administration's ability to improve the economy and manage the federal government.
The poll found 54 percent of respondents think the president is doing enough to cooperate with Republicans. Poll directors said only 24 percent thought congressional Republicans are doing enough to cooperate with the president.
"New presidents typically enjoy the benefit of the doubt from the public early in their terms, even from those whose votes they didn't get," said MTSU Poll Associate Director Dr. Jason Reineke in a statement. But he noted it "remains to be seen whether Tennesseans' good will toward President Obama will endure."
In fact, an averaging of recent national polls by the nonpartisan Web site pollster.com found that nationwide President Obama's job approval standing is 62 percent - nearly 10 points higher than in Tennessee.
When it comes to the Tennessee Legislature, recently elected House Speaker Kent Williams of Elizabethton, a Republican turned independent whose election by Democrats generated a weeks-long uproar among Republicans, said he thinks the "circus" over his upset victory, as well as the economic recession, may be pulling down public perceptions of officials.
"I think everyone relates to the economy," Rep. Williams said.
Noting that Gov. Bredesen's approval ratings are down, he said, "he's had to make some tremendous cuts, and those aren't popular when you start cutting funding. But I think his approval rating would be less if he started raising taxes."
The economy was the most pressing problem cited by poll respondents. Two-thirds said the recession has hurt them financially.
But officials noted the poll's 100-point "mood barometer" - which measures approval of the president, perceived health of the national economy and satisfaction with the nation's direction - rose to 28 from last fall's record low of 20.