Poll Shows More Bad News For Obama

Only 25 Percent of Americans Say the Country Is onThe Right Track. Just 14 Percent of Whites Say His Agenda Will Help Them.

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Ronald Brownstein
Sept. 19, 2013, 11 a.m.

For Pres­id­ent Obama, the sea­son’s first frost has ar­rived early.

As Obama pre­pares for an­oth­er round of budget con­front­a­tions with House Re­pub­lic­ans, the latest All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll finds that at­ti­tudes about the coun­try’s dir­ec­tion, the eco­nomy’s tra­ject­ory, the im­pact of his policies, and his job per­form­ance have all chilled con­spicu­ously since the pre­vi­ous sur­vey in June. On some of these meas­ures, Obama faces the weak­est rat­ing — es­pe­cially among whites — he has ever re­ceived in Heart­land Mon­it­or polling, which began in April 2009. The one sil­ver lin­ing for the pres­id­ent: Con­gress re­ceives even worse as­sess­ments.

The sur­vey, con­duc­ted by the Stra­tegic Com­mu­nic­a­tions prac­tice of FTI Con­sult­ing, sur­veyed 1,000 adults by land­line and cell phone Sept. 3-7, im­me­di­ately after Obama ini­tially asked Con­gress to au­thor­ize mil­it­ary strikes against Syr­ia.

The gloom starts with the most ba­sic ques­tion. Just 25 per­cent of those sur­veyed say the coun­try is on the right track, while 64 per­cent say it is mov­ing in the wrong dir­ec­tion. That’s the most pess­im­ist­ic find­ing on both fronts since two sur­veys in the fall of 2011, shortly after the last debt-ceil­ing stan­doff.

Obama’s job-ap­prov­al rat­ing has also skid­ded, with just 40 per­cent rat­ing him pos­it­ively. That’s the low­est ap­prov­al rat­ing the pres­id­ent has re­ceived in any of the 18 Heart­land Mon­it­or polls. His dis­ap­prov­al rat­ing spiked to 54 per­cent, also his weak­est show­ing in the sur­veys. Both num­bers rep­res­ent a sharp de­teri­or­a­tion since the June poll.

The share of adults who strongly dis­ap­prove of Obama’s per­form­ance (39 per­cent) is now double the share of those who strongly ap­prove (19 per­cent). This 20-point gap ex­ceeds the poll’s biggest pre­vi­ous dis­par­ity and raises the pos­sib­il­ity that, as in 2010, Obama’s crit­ics will be more mo­tiv­ated than his sup­port­ers to vote in the 2014 midterm elec­tion.

The pres­id­ent’s grades de­teri­or­ated on two eco­nom­ic ques­tions as well. Just 37 per­cent say his eco­nom­ic policies are help­ing “to avoid an even worse eco­nom­ic crisis, and are fuel­ing eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery,” com­pared with 50 per­cent who say they have “run up a re­cord fed­er­al de­fi­cit while fail­ing to sig­ni­fic­antly im­prove the eco­nomy.” That’s also a de­cline since last sum­mer, and the most neg­at­ive re­sponse Obama has re­ceived on that ques­tion.

Even more strik­ing, just 22 per­cent say the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions would in­crease op­por­tun­ity for people like them to get ahead, while 47 per­cent say his ac­tions would de­crease those op­por­tun­it­ies. That’s the smal­lest pos­it­ive, and largest neg­at­ive, re­sponses Obama has ever re­ceived on this ques­tion.

And, for Obama, even these mea­ger rat­ings are bolstered by con­tin­ued (al­beit some­what slip­ping) sup­port among minor­it­ies. With whites, his stand­ing is much worse. In the latest poll, just 30 per­cent of whites say they ap­prove of his job per­form­ance (com­pared with 64 per­cent who dis­ap­prove), and only 14 per­cent say his agenda will in­crease op­por­tun­ity for people like them (com­pared with 56 per­cent who say it will di­min­ish those op­por­tun­it­ies). 

On both fronts, that’s the low­est rat­ing among whites the poll has meas­ured for Obama.

As throughout his ca­reer, the pres­id­ent’s po­s­i­tion is es­pe­cially vul­ner­able among whites without a col­lege edu­ca­tion: Just 26 per­cent ap­prove of his job per­form­ance, and a tiny 11 per­cent say his agenda would im­prove their pro­spects. But since June, he’s fallen even faster with col­lege-edu­cated whites.

Con­gress doesn’t fare any bet­ter. Only 13 per­cent ap­prove of its per­form­ance, also the low­est the poll has ever re­cor­ded. Just over three-fourths dis­ap­prove.

All of these dim as­sess­ments are linked to gath­er­ing eco­nom­ic anxi­ety. The share of adults who de­scribe their fin­an­cial situ­ation as ex­cel­lent or good dropped from 49 per­cent in June to 44 per­cent now; per­haps more im­port­ant, the share who ex­pect the eco­nomy to im­prove over the next year fell from 37 per­cent to 28 per­cent. That de­cline was es­pe­cially sharp among whites, only about one-fifth of whom now ex­pect im­prove­ment over the next year. That’s down from about half in Septem­ber 2012.

Like Obama’s sag­ging num­bers, those res­ults should ring alarms for Demo­crats be­fore a midterm elec­tion in which whites (es­pe­cially older ones) will al­most cer­tainly cast a lar­ger share of the vote than they did in 2012.

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