Republicans stand to benefit from voters' deep concern about the economy and federal deficit
Barack Obama has his work cut out for him as the midterm elections draw near. Americans disapprove of how the President has handled virtually every issue he has confronted and are deeply pessimistic about the nation's direction, a Bloomberg National Poll shows.
The President's overall approval is at 52 percent, roughly what it has been since December 2009. Yet majorities or pluralities disapprove of his handling of the economy, health care, the budget deficit, the Afghanistan war, the overhaul of financial regulations, and BP's (BP) leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama's rating is higher than President Bill Clinton's 42 percent in July 1994 and lower than President George W. Bush's 73 percent in July 2002, according to Gallup data.
Almost two-thirds say they feel the nation is headed in the wrong direction, an even more sour assessment than in March, when 58 percent felt that way. Similarly, two-thirds of independent voters are pessimistic, while just 56 percent of Democrats offer a vote of confidence. After a year of economic growth, 71 percent say the economy is still in recession. "They have been hammered by the economy, and there is a disconnect between the lives Americans are living and Washington," says J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines firm that conducted the nationwide survey. "They seem to have lost hope."
For Democrats, the survey may portend significant losses in November, when voters will determine which party controls the House and Senate. Given the anti-Washington mood, Republicans have the upper hand. Among independent voters often crucial to winning elections, GOP congressional candidates are preferred to Democrats, 44 percent to 32 percent. Among likely voters who view the election as exceptionally important—and provide the advantage that political consultants call the "intensity factor"—Republicans beat Democrats 56 percent to 34 percent.
A quarter of Americans, including 30 percent of Republicans and 21 percent of Democrats, say the nation would have been better off had Hillary Clinton been elected President.
Unemployment is easily the top issue, with 41 percent saying it is the most important matter facing the nation. "It downgrades our people if they don't have anything to do," says respondent Jane Phillips, an 80-year-old retired schoolteacher from Springfield, Ohio. After unemployment, the most critical issues were the federal deficit and government spending, followed by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The gap between Republicans and Democrats is stark when it comes to the budget. Among Republicans, 44 percent rank it as the most important issue, compared with 7 percent of Democrats.
Among likely voters who say they are extremely interested in the election, a plurality of 41 percent say the deficit is the No. 1 issue. "The deficit is of paramount concern, because we don't want to have our grandkids paying for this," says poll participant Jeff Lockman, 41, a professional golfer and Republican from Malvern, Pa. "It's more like spend now and burn people later."
Obama's worst ratings come on his handling of the budget gap, where 59 percent disapprove and 37 percent approve. It's his worst grade on that subject in four Bloomberg polls since September 2009. The Administration expects the deficit this year to exceed $1.5 trillion.
While 45 percent say they have become more supportive in recent months of tougher regulations for Wall Street, the momentum is heading in the opposite direction from the White House on many other issues. Americans have grown less supportive of Obama's offshore drilling ban and more supportive of allowing local law enforcement to detain anyone who cannot produce proof of citizenship, as is contemplated in Arizona.
The bottom line: Four months before midterm elections, the mood of voters is bleak as they fault President Obama for his handling of most issues.