President Obama's holding the line at an even division in public views on health care reform, boosted by support for two key elements – a personal mandate and a public option – and aided by continued weakness in the opposition party.
Americans divide about evenly on the reform plan and Obama's handling of health care alike – neither better nor worse for him since summer. But 57 percent support one of the plan's most contentious elements, a government-sponsored insurance option, and that soars to 76 percent if it's limited to those who can't get affordable private insurance.
Indeed, Americans by 51-37 percent in this latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say they'd rather see a plan pass Congress without Republican support, if it includes a public option based on affordability, than with Republican backing but no such element.
That cuts to the GOP's basic challenges finding political footing: Only 20 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Republicans, the fewest in 26 years. Just 19 percent, similarly, trust the Republicans in Congress to make the right decisions for the country's future; even among Republicans themselves just four in 10 are confident in their own party. For comparison, 49 percent overall express this confidence in Obama, steady since August albeit well below its peak.
The Republican Party's difficulties are shown in another result as well; in an early assessment of preference for congressional candidates in 2010, the Democrats lead by 51-39 percent.
NINE MONTHS – Nine months into his presidency Obama faces his own threats, including the economy, concerns about the war in Afghanistan, continued doubts about the deficit and a sense his pace of accomplishment has slowed. Fewer than half, 49 percent, now say he's accomplished a great deal or good amount since taking office, down from 63 percent at the 100-day mark.
Obama's rating is better in sum than on most individual issues, suggesting a continued boost from his personal appeal. Notably, his approval rating from independents, at 55 percent, is its best since July, while among Democrats he's slipped to a career-low – but still very high – 83 percent. (He's also at a new low, albeit 82 percent, among liberals.) With partisanship at full tilt, just 19 percent of Republicans approve.
While Obama's rated below the postwar average for a president at nine months, 63 percent, that covers a wide range; George W. Bush hit a record 92 percent approval in a post-9/11 rally, vs. Bill Clinton's 51 percent in October 1993. Ronald Reagan, the last president to take office in a recession, was at 59 percent at this point, very similar to Obama now. Reagan continued to lose ground as the economy foundered, perhaps the single greatest cautionary note for Obama today.
ISSUES – On individual issues, some of Obama's best ratings are unexpected: Fifty-seven percent approve of his work as commander in chief and on international affairs generally, two areas in which his credentials were questioned during the presidential campaign. Fifty-four percent approve of how he's handled winning the Nobel Peace Prize, making a mild net positive of that unexpected gift.