Obama Approval Plummets Among Americans Skeptical of Jobs Plan

A majority of Americans don’t believe President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan will help lower the unemployment rate, skepticism he must overcome as he presses Congress for action and positions himself for re- election.

The downbeat assessment of the American Jobs Act reflects a growing and broad sense of dissatisfaction with the president. Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy by 62 percent to 33 percent, a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Sept. 9-12 shows. The disapproval number represents a nine point increase from six months ago.

The president’s job approval rating also stands at the lowest of his presidency -- 45 percent. That rating is driven down in part by a majority of independents, 53 percent, who disapprove of his performance.

“I don’t think he’s done as good a job as I think he could have,” said Paul Kaplan, 58, an unemployed Democrat from Philadelphia. “We were hopeful that things would improve in the economy and they’ve only gotten worse. People in Washington just don’t seem to want to cooperate with each other and work for the people.”

The poll hands Obama new lows in each of the categories that measures his performance on the economy: only 36 percent of respondents approve of his efforts to create jobs, 30 percent approve of how he’s tackled the budget deficit and 39 percent approve of his handling of health care.

Jobs Bill Skepticism

By a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent, Americans doubt the package of tax cuts and spending proposals intended to jumpstart job creation that Obama submitted to Congress this week will bring down the 9.1 percent jobless rate. That sentiment undermines one of the core arguments the president is making on the job act’s behalf in a nationwide campaign to build public support.

Compounding Obama’s challenge is that 56 percent of independents, whom the president won in 2008 and will need to win in 2012, are skeptical it will work.

“I think the jobs bill is a good start, but it’s hard to look at it real positively in light of what’s just happened with the budget,” said Jason Dumas, a 40 year-old independent voter from Charlotte, North Carolina. “The partisanship is still there and it seems like we’re gearing up more for the election.”

In all of the categories gauging Obama’s performance on economic issues, the president’s disapproval rating among independents is above 50 percent.

Independents’ Disapproval

On the economy, 29 percent of independents approve of the job Obama is doing while 66 percent disapprove. Obama is weakest among independents when it comes to his ability to reduce the deficit -- under a quarter of those respondents approve of his job in that category, while 67 percent disapprove. On job creation, 30 percent of independents approve of Obama’s efforts while 63 percent disapprove. He scored slightly better among independents on health care with 34 percent approving and 57 percent disapproving.

Forty-six percent of independents say they definitely won’t vote to re-elect the president, compared to 21 percent who definitely will support him. In 2008, Obama was backed by 52 percent of independent voters, compared to 44 percent who backed Republican nominee John McCain, an Arizona senator, according to exit polls.

In addition to lost ground with independents, Obama’s 2008 supporters are less enthused in the wake of the summer’s fight to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default, according to the poll of 997 adults conducted by Selzer & Co., based in Des Moines, Iowa.

Core Support Decline

Of the respondents who said they’ve supported Obama at one point since he launched his presidential campaign in 2007, fewer than half say they still support him as fervently. Thirty- seven percent say their support has waned and 19 percent say he lost their backing because they’ve grown disappointed or angry with his leadership.

Almost a third of Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents say they’d like to see Obama face a primary challenge.

The job performance areas where Obama scores favorably are his handling of the situation in Libya and fighting terrorism. Another rare bright spot in the poll is his favorability rating, which stands at 50 percent and is better than all of his prospective Republican rivals. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has a favorability rating of 33 percent compared to 38 percent who view him unfavorably, a ten point jump from June before the debt ceiling standoff in August.

Unfavorability Rating

Even that ray of hope is a dim one. Obama’s unfavorability rating is 47 percent, just three percentage points below his favorability, which is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

“I personally don’t think it’s his fault, I think it’s Congress,” said Krystal Carter, 40, a Democrat, who is an esthetician in Davenport, Florida. “They’re like a bunch of kindergarteners. I think we just need to vote all them out and start over.”

As Obama urges Congress to act on the jobs bill and prepares to engage in debate over a $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion debt-reduction plan, Americans give him low marks on his negotiating style. By a margin of 52 percent to 37 percent, they disapprove of how Obama negotiates with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats approve of Obama’s negotiating skills, while 71 percent of Republicans disapprove. Among independents, 55 percent are critical of his skills.

Stand for Something

“If he believes in something, then he needs to stand for it,” said Dumas, the North Carolina independent who works in video production. “He needs to back it and not play both sides. It hasn’t really served him well.”

Obama has pledged to stand firm on the jobs program. “This isn’t about giving Democrats or Republicans a win. It’s about giving the American people a win,” he said at a jobs event in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday.

While respondents are skeptical that the program will reduce the unemployment rate, the poll found support for some of its components.

The plan’s call for approximately $35 billion in direct aid to state and local governments to stem layoffs of educators and emergency personnel is favored by 71 percent of Americans compared to 27 percent who oppose it. While the proposal was the most popular in the poll, it is also the least likely to pass Congress because Republicans have expressed opposition to new spending.

Tax Centerpiece

The centerpiece of the proposal -- and the plank that Republicans have said they are most willing to consider -- is a cut in payroll taxes, which cover the first $106,800 in earnings and are evenly split between employers and employees.

Respondents are evenly split at 45 percent on this approach, which would cost $240 billion to the U.S. Treasury. Independents oppose it 47 percent versus 43 percent who favor it.

The White House also would use temporary payroll tax reductions next year to offer incentives for new hiring and to assist small businesses -- something Kaplan, a Democratic Party official in Philadelphia, said would help him.

“I hope it gets passed quickly, I’m one of the people who might benefit from it directly,” he said. “I myself have been out of work for six months now. I haven’t even had an interview.”

Others are less optimistic. Since World War II, no U.S. president has won re-election with a jobless rate above 6 percent, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, who faced 7.2 percent unemployment on Election Day in 1984.

“He can promise the moon,” said Carter. “But if Congress can’t get their act together and vote to pass it, it’s never going to happen.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Julianna Goldman in Washington at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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