(Bloomberg) — Hope has turned to doubt and disenchantment for almost half of President Barack Obama's supporters.
More than 4 of 10 likely voters who say they once considered themselves Obama backers now are either less supportive or say they no longer support him at all, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 7-10.
Three weeks before the Nov. 2 congressional elections that Republicans are trying to make a referendum on Obama, fewer than half of likely voters approve of the president's job performance. Likely voters are more apt to say Obama's policies have harmed rather than helped the economy. Among those who say they are most enthusiastic about voting this year, 6 of 10 say the Democrat has damaged the economy.
"He's made compromises that have hurt the middle class," says poll respondent Alan Graham, 55, a surgeon in London, Kentucky, who supported Obama in 2008 and now is on the fence about the president. "I think the lobbyists for the big businesses are having their way with him."
A year after the official end of the U.S. recession, growth has slowed again without big gains in employment. Joblessness, which was 9.6 percent in September, has barely budged since reaching a 26-year high of 10.1 percent last October. Gross domestic product has slowed from a 5.0 percent annual growth rate in last year's final quarter to 1.7 percent during the second quarter.
While stocks have risen since Obama took office Jan. 20, 2009, the gains largely came during his first year. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index is up more than 44 percent since Obama was inaugurated, though only 4.5 percent this year.
Obama responded to the financial crisis he inherited by embracing the Bush administration's $700 billion bank bailout, as well as a taxpayer-financed rescue of the auto industry, and providing a $814 billion economic stimulus program and the biggest overhaul of financial regulations since the Great Depression.
The poll shows that almost two-thirds of voters believe the country is on the wrong track and unemployment is the top concern for about half the electorate. The budget deficit, which was $1.291 trillion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 and $1.416 trillion for 2009, ranks as the second most pressing issue, cited by 27 percent.
Obama's deteriorating job-approval numbers are balanced by continuing regard for him personally: 53 percent of voters have a positive view of the president in the October poll, up from 49 percent in a July survey.
In a hypothetical presidential match-up against one of the Republican Party's most prominent figures, Obama beats former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin 51 percent to 35 percent. Former President George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress still get more blame than Obama or congressional Democrats for the condition of the economy. The White House is trying to tap this current of public opinion with a campaign theme portraying a vote for Republicans as a move "backward" on the economy.
Two-thirds of likely voters say Bush hurt the economy and 57 percent say congressional Republicans have. Forty-seven percent say Obama's policies have damaged the economy and 53 percent say congressional Democrats have done so.
While some prominent corporate leaders have complained Obama is too anti-business, most voters don't share that concern. More than half believe Obama has struck the right balance or is too pro-business. Only 36 percent of voters consider the president anti-business.
By contrast, in a September poll of Bloomberg subscribers who are investors, analysts or traders, more than three-quarters of U.S. respondents said the president is anti-business. Obama also outdoes Republicans in the debate over renewing the Bush-era tax cuts that expire Dec. 31. A 43 percent plurality of likely voters support Obama's plan to allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire. In the investor poll, two-thirds favored continuing the tax cuts for all, including families making more than $250,000.
On Obama's main foreign-policy initiative, 6 of 10 voters say Afghanistan is now a lost cause, up from 55 percent in July. "It's worse than a dead end, and he doesn't seem to recognize that," says poll respondent Nick Ruffin, 66, an asset manager in McLean, Virginia.
Women and Independents
The erosion of backing for Obama among onetime supporters has been most notable among two groups of voters who were central to his election: women and independents. More than 6 of 10 of the former Obama backers who have turned away from him are women; 53 percent of the onetime supporters are independents.
"I understand it's an uphill battle, but I don't think things are that much better than when he was elected," says poll respondent Daphne Feeney, 28, an Army wife and stay-at-home mother in Seaside, California, who voted for Obama and now says she is ambivalent about the president.
The disaffection of the former Obama supporters doesn't necessarily translate into an embrace of Republicans or Tea Party candidates, said J. Ann Selzer, president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. In the hypothetical contest with Palin, the former Obama supporters favor the president more than two-to-one.
"I hear people talk about this all the time," Selzer says. "The excitement they once felt is gone and they are left wondering if they were sold a bag of goods."
This doesn't mean Democrats have lost these onetime supporters, she said, though "they are certainly skeptical" of that party. "This is what makes this election so volatile." Though the disaffected Obama supporters give him low marks on his performance in office with 39 percent job approval, compared with 47 percent among all voters, they are just as likely to view him favorably personally.
Obama is outshined among all voters by two close members of his entourage: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is viewed favorably by 64 percent, and First Lady Michelle Obama, viewed favorably by 62 percent.
The survey of 721 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.