Economy, Gas, Partisanship and War Gang Up on Confidence in Government

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BUDGET -- Perceived non-cooperation on the budget deficit is one problem for the Republicans in Congress. Seventy-one percent say the GOP is not willing enough to compromise with Obama on the deficit; that even includes 42 percent of Republicans. Fifty-two percent overall also say Obama isn't willing enough to compromise -- still a majority, but a substantially smaller one. (Indeed, 30 percent call Obama "too willing" to make peace; half as many say that about the GOP.)

It follows that on another measure, the public by a 14-point margin says it's more apt to hold the Republicans than Obama responsible if the budget impasse forces a partial government shutdown. (Then again, three in 10 also say a partial shutdown would be a good thing.)

There's a close division on another basic element of the debate: By 45-41 percent, Americans split on whether large reductions in the budget would do more to cut jobs or create them.

The public also divides essentially evenly, 43-42 percent, on another measure -- which side, Obama or the Republicans, they trust more to find the right balance between keeping government spending that is needed, and cutting spending that's not needed.

Most Americans take the middle ground in deficit-reduction: A substantial 64 percent say the best way to trim the deficit is with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, rather than just cutting spending (31 percent, down 5 points from December) or only raising taxes (3 percent).

OBAMA -- Obama, in all, is holding up fairly well. His job approval rating stands at 51 percent, with 45 percent disapproving -- probably about as good as it can get in this kind of economy. The president's rating exactly matches his average in more than a dozen ABC/Post polls since December 2009, when the first bloom of his presidency faded.

In addition to his advantage over the Republicans in trust to handle the economy (12 points) and the deficit (9 points), Obama holds a 7-point edge in trust to handle "protecting the rights of working people," a potential area of differentiation given the controversy over the bargaining rights of unionized state employees.

He also leads the Republicans on two empathy measures: by 12 points in better understanding the economic problems people in the country are having, and by a scant 5 points in better representing "your own personal values."

There are still substantial negatives for the president. In addition to his 55 percent disapproval on the economy and the deficit, just 28 percent of Americans say they think the economic stimulus package actually helped the economy, the fewest to say so since June 2009. It's a central and sharp criticism of a president elected above all to turn the economy around.

CONGRESS/GOP -- Congress overall, meanwhile, is laboring under just a 27 percent approval rating; it's received less than 30 percent approval continuously since July 2008, its longest run that low in polling data since 1974.

For their part, the Republicans, as noted, are seen as having a stronger leadership role in Washington, at 46 percent to Obama's 39 percent. That compares with as essentially even split in December. It's much weaker than the leadership roles ascribed to congressional Democrats over Bush in early 2007, or to congressional Republicans over Bill Clinton in 1995; that may be because the out-party in those cases won both houses of Congress, not just one.

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