Obama Job Approval Rebounds Amid Voter Discontent on Economy

U.S. President Barack Obama
A majority of voters approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing, even as a larger proportion express concern about his handling of the economy, according to a new Politico-GW Battleground Poll. Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Pool via Bloomberg

A majority of voters approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing, even as a larger share express concern about his handling of the economy and the deficit, according to a Politico-GW Battleground Poll.

The poll shows public backing for boosting the $14.3 trillion debt limit, with 56 percent saying it would be “disastrous” to the U.S. economy if Congress didn’t raise the limit. Still, almost one-third of respondents, 32 percent, said failing to raise the ceiling wouldn’t have a serious impact, an argument made by a growing number of congressional Republicans.

The survey found that 52 percent approve of Obama’s overall job performance -- a seven percentage point increase from its last measure in October 2010 -- while about six in 10 disapprove of his handling of the economy and the deficit, and say the nation is on the “wrong track.”

The poll of 1,000 registered likely voters conducted May 8-12, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, shows Obama’s popularity has rebounded since the 2010 midterm congressional elections. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they would vote to re-elect him or consider doing so in 2012, and 38 percent said they definitely wouldn’t.

The numbers also show continuing challenges for the president, with 65 percent saying they are concerned, frustrated or angry with the direction of the country. Forty-eight percent ranked jobs and the economy or spending and deficits as their top concern; jobs were seen more widely as the most important issue, cited by 28 percent compared with 20 percent who named the deficit.

‘Toxic Combination’

“This economic anxiety and pessimism is a toxic combination for an incumbent president, and time is running out for the president to change that dynamic in his re-election bid,” Republican pollster Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group, an author of the bipartisan survey, said in a statement released with its results.

Fifty-seven percent disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy and 61 percent disapproved of his handling of the deficit.

At the same time, voters gave the president an edge over congressional Republicans on improving the economy, with more saying he would do the better job of turning it around -- 48 percent to 42 percent -- and creating jobs -- 47 percent to Republicans’ 43 percent. On the deficit, voters gave congressional Republicans the advantage, with 47 percent saying they could handle it better than Obama, who was backed on the issue by 44 percent.

Republicans Supported

Republicans had greater support than congressional Democrats on those issues. Forty-five percent said congressional Republicans will do a better job both of turning the economy around and creating jobs, compared with 40 percent who said Democrats would. On the deficit, 51 percent said Republicans would do a better job, versus 32 percent backing Democrats.

Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, the Democratic co-author, said while the survey shows voters have “buyer’s remorse” about electing Republicans last fall, Democrats “cannot take their eye off the ball; they must present the American people with a solid economic plan for job creation in order to assuage the public’s chief and longstanding concern -- and the central criterion on which the 2012 elections will be determined: jobs and the economy.”

Killing Bin Laden

By a more than 8-to-1 margin, voters said the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would make no difference in how they vote in 2012, though three-quarters of those surveyed approved of Obama’s handling of terrorism. Forty-one percent said both Obama and former President George W. Bush deserve credit for bin Laden’s death.

There’s a partisan divide on the debt ceiling, with 64 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independent voters saying that failing to raise it would have “disastrous” consequences, while 49 percent of Republicans said so. Yet substantial minorities believe it wouldn’t have a serious impact, including 27 percent of Democrats, 34 percent of independent voters and 38 percent of Republicans. The number goes up to 44 percent among those who identify strongly with the Tea Party.

Lake said the numbers in part indicate voters’ poor understanding of the debt ceiling issue.

“Key for Democrats here is defining what we are talking about,” she wrote in a Web forum about the poll results hosted by Politico. She noted that voters give both parties low marks for their handling of the deficit, with Obama four points behind congressional Republicans and neither breaking 50 percent.

Won’t ‘Go Away’

Still, Goeas said congressional Republicans have a 19-point advantage over Democrats on the issue of controlling the deficit, one he wrote during the forum “is not going to go away with the debt ceiling vote.”

Obama outpolled two of his prospective 2012 Republican rivals, former Governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, when voters were asked who they would vote for if the election were held today. Fifty-two percent said they would definitely, probably or lean toward voting for Obama versus 40 percent for Romney and 38 percent for Pawlenty.

The poll, conducted before today’s decision by real estate executive Donald Trump not to seek the presidency, showed voters didn’t believe he was a viable presidential candidate, with 71 percent saying he didn’t have “any chance” of being elected.

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