The president's rated negatively for his handling of four out of five individual issues tested in this poll: the deficit (56 percent disapprove), health care and the economy (53 percent apiece) and creating jobs (51 percent). His only positive is for handling terrorism.
His opponents, moreover, are fired up. On health care 43 percent "strongly" disapprove of his performance, while far fewer, 24 percent, strongly approve. On the economy strong disapprovers outnumber strong approvers by 16 points, 38 percent to 22 percent. And on the deficit it's a 23-point margin; 40 percent strongly disapprove while just 17 percent approve strongly.
On top of all this, Obama faces growing second-guessing about trials of accused terrorists. In a shift from November, 55 percent of Americans now say such trials should be held in special military tribunals rather than in the existing federal court system. With handling terrorism one of Obama's last redoubts, that disagreement with his policy poses a threat.
POWER and PARTISANSHIP – In another slap at the party in power, 57 percent of Americans say it's a good thing the Republicans have broken the Democratic supermajority in the Senate, because it'll force the Democrats to cooperate more with GOP leaders to get things done.
But therein lies a challenge for the Republicans – the risk of being seen as obstructionist. They're far more likely than Obama to be seen as not doing enough to compromise on important issues; 58 percent say the Republicans are doing too little to compromise, vs. 44 percent who say that about Obama. (See Feb. 9 analysis.) And more than two-thirds, 68 percent, say the GOP should use its newly regained power to block legislation in the Senate only infrequently.
Indeed, while the GOP is well-positioned to compete this fall, its task in the months ahead is to focus and channel the public's frustration to work in its favor. The risk otherwise is that anti-incumbency could work against Republican incumbents as well as against Democratic ones.
Currently, 48 percent of Americans describe themselves as anti-incumbent, vs. 35 percent pro-incumbent, the 13-point margin noted above. While that presents plenty of raw material for challengers, it compares a bit meekly to the 24-point margin, 53-29 percent, for anti-incumbency in summer 2006, and an almost identical 54-29 percent in 1994.
That doesn't mean they think it'll happen: The public divides evenly, 48-46 percent, on whether comprehensive reform has a chance of becoming law this year, or is dead.