If big government looks like a fruitful GOP theme, however, Obama, and by extension his party, have ammunition of their own. For one, many more Americans chiefly blamed the economy and the federal deficit alike on George W. Bush rather than on Obama, by 59-25 percent on the economy, by an almost identical 60-22 percent on the deficit.
Additionally, disapproval of Obama's handling of the economy has slipped below 50 percent for the first time since November, and worry about the economy, while still very high, has eased by 8 points from its pre-inaugural level and by 15 points from its peak in fall 2008.
Obama also benefits from personal popularity and, despite the big-government tag, an image as moderate overall. Fifty-seven percent had a favorable opinion of him, with more seeing him "strongly" favorably than strongly unfavorably. And 53 percent continued to see him as "about right" ideologically, steady since last fall, compared with 39 percent "too liberal" (and 5 percent "too conservative").
Intensity on some issues, though, is another challenge for the Democrats. More Americans "strongly" disapproved than strongly approved of Obama's performance on the economy (39 percent vs. 24 percent), on financial regulation (33 vs. 22 percent) and especially on the deficit (42 vs. 20 percent). To the extent that strong sentiment can motivate voter turnout, it's a risk for Obama and an opportunity for the Republicans.
COMPARE – Still, while Obama's ratings on top issues were underwhelming, politics are comparative, and he continued to outpoint the GOP head-to-head. Even with 49 percent approval on handling the economy, he led the Republicans in Congress by 49-38 percent in trust to deal with it. The numbers are almost identical on health care overhaul, on which Obama's approval, also 49 percent, is up 6 points from its February low, given approval of the Democrats' legislative package.
As reported Monday, Obama led the Republicans by 17 points in trust to handle financial regulatory overhaul, despite his own modest 48 percent approval on the issue. And he runs numerically (plus-4 points) ahead in trust to handle the deficit, even while his approval on the deficit is a weak 40 percent.
In a party-to-party measure, Americans by 46-32 percent said they trust the Democratic Party over the Republicans to handle the main problems the country faces during the next few years. That slipped for the Republicans from a 43-37 percent division in February. Still, it's nothing like the Democrats' thumping 56-23 percent lead -- the biggest in polling back to the early 1980s -- a month after Obama's election.
This "trust to handle" measure is one on which the Republicans pulled even with the Democrats in October 1994, making it one to watch closely as the 2010 campaign unfolds. The "inclined to reelect" result, meanwhile, matched its low, 32 percent, in a 1991 ABC-Post poll; it was similar, 34 percent, in October 1994.
FAR CRY – Obama's own ratings are a far cry from his one-time glory. His overall approval rating peaked in ABC-Post polls exactly a year ago, at 69 percent, amid honeymoon hopes he'd turn the economy around; it's 15 points lower now. His personal favorability rating was 79 percent just before his inauguration, 22 points higher than today.