Poll: Obama Down but Congress Is Down Further

A man walks near the U.S. Capitol building before sunrise, on October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
Nov. 18, 2013, 8:28 a.m.

The bot­tom has fallen out for every­one in the na­tion’s polit­ic­al lead­er­ship.

That’s the mes­sage from the latest All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll, which shows that after a gov­ern­ment shut­down, near-de­fault on the fed­er­al debt, the calam­it­ous de­but of Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care plan, and con­tin­ued slug­gish­ness in the eco­nomy, Amer­ic­ans aren’t feel­ing much hol­i­day cheer about the coun­try’s dir­ec­tion or any­one set­ting it.

Just 38 per­cent of those polled said they ap­proved of Obama’s job per­form­ance, with 55 per­cent dis­ap­prov­ing. That’s the low­est ap­prov­al, and highest dis­ap­prov­al, the Heart­land Mon­it­or poll has re­cor­ded for Obama in the 19 times it has meas­ured his stand­ing since April 2009. The latest num­bers con­tin­ue a slide for Obama that had taken his ap­prov­al rat­ing from 54 per­cent im­me­di­ately after his reelec­tion last Novem­ber to 40 per­cent in Septem­ber.

Amer­ic­ans are even more du­bi­ous about Con­gress. Just 9 per­cent of those polled (down from 21 per­cent last Novem­ber) ap­proved of its per­form­ance. Fully 84 per­cent dis­ap­proved. Al­most nine-in-10 of those who dis­ap­proved of Obama’s per­form­ance also gave Con­gress a thumbs-down; 56 per­cent of those who dis­ap­proved of Con­gress also flunked Obama.

For good meas­ure, just 23 per­cent of those polled said Amer­ica is mov­ing in the right dir­ec­tion; 65 per­cent said it’s on the wrong track. After the 2012 elec­tion, those num­bers stood at 41 per­cent right track and 51 per­cent wrong track.

Oth­er meas­ures con­tin­ued to pro­duce con­sist­ently grim ver­dicts. Just 23 per­cent said Obama’s agenda would in­crease op­por­tun­ity for people like them to get ahead, while 47 per­cent said it would di­min­ish their op­por­tun­it­ies; 25 per­cent said it would have no im­pact. That was es­sen­tially un­changed since Septem­ber, but a sig­ni­fic­ant de­cline since fall 2012, when two sur­veys found adults split about evenly on wheth­er Obama’s plans would im­prove or di­min­ish their chances.

Like­wise, just 34 per­cent of those polled said Obama’s eco­nom­ic policies had helped “to avoid an even worse eco­nom­ic crisis, and are fuel­ing eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery”; a 52 per­cent ma­jor­ity said in­stead he had “run up a re­cord fed­er­al de­fi­cit while fail­ing to sig­ni­fic­antly im­prove the eco­nomy.” That con­tin­ues a de­cline over the past year and rep­res­ents the smal­lest share ex­press­ing a pos­it­ive view about Obama’s eco­nom­ic im­pact since the Heart­land Mon­it­or began ask­ing this ques­tion (and a sim­il­arly worded pre­de­cessor) in 2009.

This poll sur­veyed 1,000 adults by land­line and cell phones from Nov. 2-6. The sur­vey, su­per­vised by Ed Re­illy, Brent McGoldrick, Jeremy Ruch, and Jocelyn Land­au of FTI Con­sult­ing’s Stra­tegic Com­mu­nic­a­tions prac­tice, has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.1 per­cent­age points.

Still, in a clear-cut forest, Obama is man­aging to stand slightly taller on one key meas­ure. Asked whom they trust to de­vel­op solu­tions to the coun­try’s eco­nom­ic chal­lenges, those polled pre­ferred Obama over con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans by 36 per­cent to 33 per­cent. That’s a smal­ler ad­vant­age than the pres­id­ent has en­joyed in most of the past two years, though com­par­able to his stand­ing through 2011.

Not that Amer­ic­ans see any­one of­fer­ing many an­swers for the eco­nomy. Just 11 per­cent said they con­sider the eco­nomy in ex­cel­lent or good shape, while a re­sound­ing 88 per­cent de­scribe it as only fair or poor. The of­fi­cial score­keep­ers may have de­clared the re­ces­sion over in 2009, but 53 per­cent said they be­lieve the eco­nomy is still in re­ces­sion; only 41 per­cent be­lieve it has lif­ted. Just 29 per­cent said they ex­pect the eco­nomy to im­prove over the next year (while 30 per­cent ex­pect to re­main the same and 36 per­cent ex­pect it to de­teri­or­ate). That’s much glum­mer than even last June, when 37 per­cent ex­pec­ted im­prove­ment and 26 per­cent were bra­cing for de­cline. (Im­me­di­ately after the elec­tion, 44 per­cent ex­pec­ted im­prove­ment.)

Amer­ic­ans are slightly more op­tim­ist­ic about their per­son­al fin­an­cial situ­ation, but hardly eu­phor­ic. Just 44 per­cent de­scribed their fin­ances as ex­cel­lent or good, while 56 per­cent said they were only fair or poor. Those num­bers have re­mained re­mark­ably stable since the Heart­land Mon­it­or first asked the ques­tion in April 2009. Look­ing for­ward, about two-fifths ex­pect their situ­ation to im­prove over the next year; that’s down slightly from last sum­mer.

Obama’s tumble re­flects a de­cline both among groups skep­tic­al and tra­di­tion­ally sup­port­ive of him. Among two groups that have con­sist­ently res­isted him, Obama set a new low in ap­prov­al among whites without col­lege de­grees (23 per­cent), while ty­ing his nadir among col­lege-edu­cated white men (32 per­cent). But the poll also shows him at­tract­ing his low­est ap­prov­al rat­ing ever among non­whites (only 59 per­cent) and ty­ing (at 40 per­cent) his weak­est per­form­ance with col­lege-edu­cated white wo­men, the por­tion of the white elect­or­ate his­tor­ic­ally most open to him. Obama also hit an all-time low among in­de­pend­ents (at 29 per­cent).

Whites say Obama’s agenda will de­crease, rather than in­crease, their op­por­tun­it­ies by a thump­ing 56 per­cent to 15 per­cent, and they prefer con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans over him for solv­ing the coun­try’s eco­nom­ic prob­lems by a 12-point mar­gin. Minor­it­ies are still roughly twice as likely to say his agenda will in­crease rather than di­min­ish their op­por­tun­it­ies, and they prefer him over the GOP for solv­ing the na­tion’s eco­nom­ic chal­lenges by al­most 4-to-1.

There’s little op­tim­ism in any corner that the two sides will solve a key fisc­al chal­lenge loom­ing on the ho­ri­zon. Just one-fourth of those polled said they are con­fid­ent Obama and Con­gress will reach a de­fi­cit agree­ment and avoid an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down next year. Al­most three-fourths say they don’t have much con­fid­ence Wash­ing­ton can reach a deal. With in­siders in both parties gen­er­ally dis­count­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of an­oth­er shut­down, that sug­gests Wash­ing­ton, if noth­ing else, has suc­ceeded in lower­ing the pub­lic’s ex­pect­a­tions to a point where it might fi­nally sur­pass them.

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