President Obama remains on his honeymoon -- but with a hint of clouds over the beach.
They signal economic impatience. A still-impressive 65 percent of Americans in this new ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of Obama's job performance. But there's been a retrenchment in the expectation that his stimulus plan will improve the economy -- and, consequently, a halt in what had been steadily improving views of the nation's direction.
A narrow majority, 52 percent, now thinks Obama's stimulus program has helped or will help the nation's economy -- down from 59 percent in late April. While he's vulnerable elsewhere as well, it's the economy that's his make-or-break issue -- and his advantage over the Republicans in trust to handle it, while still broad, has narrowed from a record 37 points, 61-24 percent, in April, to 24 points, 55-31 percent, today.
Where the economy leads broader public sentiment typically follows; given expectations for gains under Obama, the number of Americans saying the country's headed in the right direction had grown steadily from a record low 8 percent in October to 50 percent in April, its highest in six years. Now it's inched back under half, to 47 percent, with 50 percent saying we're on the wrong track -- the first time since Obama's election that views of the country's course have not improved.
The president's overall approval remains higher than his rating for handling any specific issue, and there are several on which he's notably vulnerable. He's below 50 percent approval for handling the federal deficit and the automaker bailout alike. His positions on Guantanamo Bay and torture continue to lack majority support. And he has a fairly tepid 53 percent approval on health care, a longtime political sand trap on which the administration is making a major push this summer.
In another sign of his risks, the number of Americans who approve "strongly" of Obama's job performance overall has slipped by 6 points, to 36 percent.
BUT STILL -- Yet, Obama is broadly popular despite these threats. While off its peak of 69 percent, his overall approval is slightly above the five-month average for elected postwar presidents, trailing three (George H.W. Bush, John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower) but clearly ahead of three others (George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan).
Still, five-month approval ratings of the remaining two, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon, were about the same as Obama's today -- an indication, given the course of their presidencies, that early approval is hardly a predictor of long-term success.
Obama also retains vastly more popularity than other players in Washington. Just 36 percent of Americans now express a favorable opinion of the Republican Party -- the fewest in polls dating back to 1984, save for a one-time anti-GOP blip at the time of the Clinton impeachment. Just 22 percent of adults now identify themselves as Republicans; April's 21 percent was the lowest since 1983.
Obama, moreover, leads the Republicans in Congress by wide margins in trust to handle a variety of issues -- the economy, as noted, by 55-31 percent; but also health care, by 55-27 percent; the deficit, by 56-30 percent; and the threat of terrorism, by 55-34 percent.