A double punch of persistent economic discontent and growing skepticism on health care reform has knocked Barack Obama's key approval ratings to new lows, clouding his administration's prospects at least until the jobless rate eases.
Fifty percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of the president's work overall, down 6 points in the last month; nearly as many, 46 percent, now disapprove. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time. On the deficit, his worst score, 56 percent disapprove.
Such numbers aren't unexpected; Ronald Reagan, in similar economic straits, dropped to 52 percent overall approval at this point in his presidency. But it's not just the economy: Fifty-three percent also disapprove of Obama's work on health care, and the public by 51-44 percent now opposes the reform package in Congress – both more than half for the first time in ABC/Post polls.
There are further challenges. Obama's approval rating among independents, the crucial center of national politics, is 43 percent, a new low and down from a peak of 67 percent in the heady days a month after he took office. He's down by 9 points this month among moderates. He's got just 41 percent approval among whites, vs. 76 percent among nonwhites; and just 42 percent among seniors, a reliable voting group (looking to the 2010 midterms) and one particularly disenchanted with health care reform.
Intensity's also a problem for the president. Forty-four percent "strongly" disapprove of his performance on the deficit; just 16 percent strongly approve. On the economy it's 40 percent vs. 23 percent; on health care, 43 percent vs. 27 percent. On his job performance overall, 33 percent strongly disapprove, 31 percent strongly approve – not a meaningful difference given polling tolerances, but the first time his strong disapproval's numerically exceeded his strong approval.
One result on the economy (there will be more later this week) underscores what Obama's up against: Regardless of GDP growth and the assessments of many economists, 86 percent of Americans say that as far as their own experience goes, the recession is not over.
Obama gets a split decision, 47-48 percent, on handling unemployment; that could be worse with 10 percent of the workforce jobless. And there are better notes for the president: He's got 54 percent approval as commander-in-chief, a weakness in the election campaign but today his best issue of the seven tested in this poll. And his rating on handling the war in Afghanistan is swimming against the tide – up 7 points this month, to 52 percent approval, as most of his other marks fell.
More, 58 percent, approve of the troop surge Obama's ordered, and there's been an 8-point gain in the past month in the number of Americans who say they war's been worth fighting, to 52 percent. Views on Afghanistan haven't helped the president generally because more Republicans support him on that issue, but not on others. (His approval on Afghanistan has doubled among Republicans, to 44 percent.) Still, given his challenges on the domestic front, it's a subject on which Obama may have bought himself some needed time.