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Belief that country heading in right direction is at all-time low

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  • NEW: Only 16 percent think the country is headed in the right direction
  • NEW: Three-quarters believe President-elect Obama will be a good president
  • Over three-quarters, 76 percent, disapprove of President Bush
  • Bush approval rating is lower than President Nixon's after Watergate
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Deputy Political Director
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the day that President-elect Barack Obama visited the White House, a new national poll illustrates the daunting challenges he faces when it becomes his home next year.

President-elect Barack Obama walks along the White House Colonnade with President Bush on Monday.

President-elect Barack Obama walks along the White House Colonnade with President Bush on Monday.

Only 16 percent of those questioned in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday say things are going well in the country today. That's an all-time low. Eighty-three percent say things are going badly, which is an all-time high.

"The challenge Obama faces has never been greater. No president has ever come to office during a time when the public's mood has been this low. In the 34 years that this question has been asked, the number who say things are going well has never fallen below 20 percent," said Keating Holland, CNN's polling director.

The 83 percent saying things are going badly is "more than in 1992, when the first President Bush was ousted because of 'the economy, stupid.' That's more than in 1980, when President Carter got fired after the malaise crisis. That's more than in 1975, after Watergate and the Nixon pardon," said Bill Schneider, CNN senior political analyst.

So far, Obama seems to be meeting the public's high expectations. Two-thirds of all Americans have a positive view of what he has done since he was elected president, and three-quarters think he will do a good job as president. Video Watch Obama's ambitious agenda »

"Obama has the support of virtually every African-American in the poll, but he also gets high marks from a solid majority of whites," Holland said.

But that optimism doesn't hide what appears to be concern about the economy. Six in 10 say that they don't have a clear idea of what Obama would do to improve the economy. Video Watch Bush welcome Obama at the White House »

The all-time low on the public's mood may have something to do with the poll's finding that President Bush is the most unpopular president since approval ratings were first sought more than six decades ago. Seventy-six percent of those questioned in the poll disapprove of how he is handling his job.

That's an all-time high in CNN polling and in Gallup polling dating back to World War II.

"No other president's disapproval rating has gone higher than 70 percent. Bush has managed to do that three times so far this year," Holland said. "That means that Bush is now more unpopular than Richard Nixon was when he resigned from office during Watergate with a 66 percent disapproval rating."

Before Bush, the record holder for presidential disapproval was Harry Truman, with a 67 percent disapproval rating in January of 1952, his last full year in office.

As Obama visits the White House to start the transition from the Bush administration to an Obama administration, 57 percent of those questioned think the transfer of power will be relatively easy and free from tension, with 39 percent saying the transition will be difficult. Video Watch what Bush and Obama may talk about »

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"A majority say that the transition from Bush to Obama will go smoothly, although nearly one in four predict a lot of tension between Bush aides and Obama aides in the next few weeks. That sentiment is highest among Democrats, but even among them, a majority believes that the transition will be relatively easy," Holland said.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday with 1,246 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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