Another result suggests potential Republican vulnerability in blame for the economic mess. Fewer than half of Americans, 42 percent, blame the Obama administration for not doing enough to try to turn the economy around (albeit up 15 points from a year ago); the complaint there apparently has less to do with the effort than with the outcome. By contrast, many more, 60 percent, blame the Bush administration for not doing enough to prevent the meltdown in the first place. The Democrats' challenge, of course, is that George W. Bush is not on the ballot.
Nor is Obama, which is fortunate for him. Forty-five percent of Americans now call him "too liberal," up 16 points since he took office and now matching the number who say he's "about right" ideologically. (Nine percent call him too conservative.) That outpaces the peak "too conservative" numbers for both John McCain (41 percent) and George W. Bush (37 percent). And among likely voters, the number who call Obama too liberal spikes to 55 percent.
Obama's job approval rating is at new lows among a variety of groups, including Democrats (78 percent approve), moderates (52 percent), independents (42 percent) and conservatives (24 percent). He's down by 8 points among moderates just since July.
In addition to his other troubled ratings, 58 percent disapprove of Obama's handling of the deficit. And despite the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, the mood is so sour that he gets only 49 percent approval for handling that war, with 45 percent disapproving. Putting a sad mark on the end of the combat operations, 62 percent say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting.
Obama may take solace in the fact that his ratings continue to track those of the last president to take office in a recession, Ronald Reagan. At about this point in his presidency Reagan's approve-disapprove rating was 48-45 percent; a few weeks later, 46-50 percent. His approval ratings and Obama's continue to correlate uncannily, now at .9, where 1 is a perfect match.
For all Obama's problems, he personally doesn't look to be driving the vote as much as Bush did in 2002 (positively) or in 2006 (negatively). Likely voters by a 9-point margin say they'll vote to show opposition to Obama rather than to support him, 31 percent to 22 percent; the rest say he's not a factor. In 2002, voters by a wider 15-point margin said they were showing support for Bush – and in 2006, said by a 17-point margin that they were voting to oppose him.
Also, very few, 9 percent, identify "the way Washington works" as one of the single most important issues in their vote preference. Other options – local issues, taxes, Afghanistan, immigration, the deficit and health care – are called one of the single top issues by anywhere from 8 to 19 percent. Many more call the economy one of the single most important issues, 31 percent.
Adding in the next tier, "very important," the economy swells to 93 percent, followed by health care, called very important or more by 82 percent, and the deficit, by 76 percent.
A deep challenge for the Democrats is that the Republicans lead among likely voters across almost all these issues – by margins ranging from 63-30 percent among those who rate the deficit as important to 51-42 percent among those who say the same about health care. Only among those assigning high importance to local issues do the Democrats pull about even.