Obama has scheduled a prime-time news conference for Wednesday night, chiefly to address his health care efforts. A risk is that he may come to be seen as focused on other issues to the detriment of the economy.
GOP – The Republicans remain slow to capitalize on Obama's challenges, but there are glimmers – or at least, a few measures that are less bad for them than they've been. For one, approval of the way the Republicans in Congress are handling their job is up 6 points since spring and up 11 points from a year ago, albeit just to 36 percent, with 58 percent disapproving. (The Democrats remain better rated; 47 percent approve. And even today just 46 percent of Republicans approve of their own party's work in Congress; 79 percent of Democrats, by contrast, approve of their home team.)
Obama leads the GOP by 23 points in trust to handle the economy, 56-33 percent, essentially unchanged from last month; nonetheless that's the Republicans' best number on this question this year, and up 9 points from their low in April. Moreover, while Obama leads by 54-34 percent on health care, the Republican score is up 7 points from last month; and Obama's 54-35 percent lead on the deficit was 56-30 percent in June.
Basic partisanship fills out the picture. Thirty-three percent of Americans in this survey identify themselves as Democrats, slightly below the recent average and numerically the fewest in ABC/Post polls since September 2007. Just 22 percent identify themselves as Republicans, in line with their recent, extreme lows. Instead 41 percent now say they're political independents – tying the mark set in January 1996 as the most on record since ABC/Post polling began 28 years ago.
Most of the president's slippage is among Republicans; their approval of his work overall has dropped by 16 points since April, from 36 percent then to 20 percent now. (That honeymoon, such as it was, is over.) But he's also lost 9 points among independents since April (to 58 percent approval), while holding about steady among Democrats (93 percent then, 90 percent now).
Obama is well off the top-tier of popularity at six months. In polls since Harry Truman, five presidents have been better-rated at about this point (Truman in the 80s; Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and the first president Bush in the 70s.) Four have been similarly rated as Obama is now – Nixon, Carter, Reagan and George W. Bush; two lower, Ford and Clinton. Six-month marks clearly don't predict long-term outcomes.
ECONOMY – The economy remains the 800-pound gorilla of national politics. Seventy-seven percent of Americans are worried about the economy's direction in the next few years and 63 percent are worried about their own family's finances – each below its peak, but still broadly negative. Moreover very few, 8 percent, say they've become better off financially (Reagan's famous benchmark) under Obama's presidency; 27 percent say they're doing worse.
But on what to do about the economy, public, and the president, look to be in a bind. On one hand, as noted, confidence that Obama's efforts in fact will improve the economy has lost 16 points since he took office. On the other, Americans by 55-40 percent now say it's more important to avoid bigger deficits than to increase stimulus spending – with deficit priority up 11 points, stimulus priority down 11, since January.