Obama Gains vs. GOP on Jobs as Congress Hits a New Low

By Gary Langer

Oct 5, 2011 12:01am
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Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama has jumped to a 15-point lead over the Republicans in Congress in trust to handle job creation, a sign the beleaguered president’s $450 billion jobs package has hit its mark in public opinion. Fifty-two percent support the plan – and most say it just might work.

Overall approval of the U.S. Congress, meanwhile, has dropped to its lowest in polls dating back to the mid-1970s. And of the eight in 10 Americans who are dissatisfied with the way the country’s political system is working, more blame the Republicans in Washington than the president.

For all of Obama’s well-documented woes, these and other results in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll underscore that politics are comparative, the public’s economic ire is omnidirectional – and it’s possible to move the bar.

A month ago, Americans divided evenly, 40-40 percent, on whom they trusted more to handle job creation, Obama or the congressional Republicans. Now, after his jobs proposal and ongoing promotion of his plan, it’s 49-34 percent, Obama’s first significant advantage over the GOP on jobs in ABC/Post polling since early 2010.

The president’s also maintained a large advantage over the Republicans in Congress in being seen as more concerned with the interests of middle-class Americans, now 52-32 percent. And the GOP, by a vast 70-17 percent, is seen as being more concerned than Obama with protecting the interests of the wealthy, a sentiment on which Obama has capitalized with his proposed millionaires’ tax.

THE WOODS – The president’s hardly out of the woods. This poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that just 35 percent approve of his handling of jobs, and an identical 35 percent approve of his handling of the economy in general, both new lows.

But there are no bragging rights here for the GOP. Many fewer Americans, 20 percent, approve of the way the Republicans in Congress are handling the economy. Even among Republicans and very conservative adults, 51 percent disapprove of congressional Republicans on the economy. Among conservatives overall, 65 percent disapprove – up 16 points from July. Among people who support the Tea Party political movement, 62 percent disapprove – up 17 points from July. Among independents and moderates, it’s 79 and 80 percent, respectively.

Still, while Obama’s gained the edge on jobs, the price of his proposals hasn’t escaped notice: congressional Republicans now lead him by a slight 7 points, 46-39 percent, in trust to handle taxes, a turnaround from last spring and the Republicans’ first advantage on this issue. (Obama’s approval rating on handling taxes, 42 percent, is another new low.)

CONGRESS – While the president and the opposition party do battle, the Congress overall is much the worse for wear. Just 14 percent of Americans approve of the way it’s doing its job, compared with Obama’s 42 percent approval. That’s the lowest for Congress in polls by ABC and the Post, and Gallup previously, back to 1974.

Congress customarily is rated lower than the president, there being something there for almost everyone to dislike. But the gap today is far wider than usual – 28 points in the president’s favor, compared with an average of 15 points. While the point discrepancy has been bigger, the ratio of presidential approval to congressional approval is now its largest on record (again, in data to the 1970s). Obama’s approval rating is three times higher than that of Congress. The average is 1.5 times, the previous high, 2.7 times, in October 1994.

The intensity of the public’s ill-will toward Congress is especially powerful: Sixty-two percent strongly disapprove of its performance, compared with 40 percent strong disapproval of Obama.

Partisanship’s a key reason: Democrats and Republicans alike are annoyed with Congress, while Obama still maintains substantial support within his own party.

Still, the Republicans in Congress have earned disproportionate animus. Seventy-nine percent of Americans say they’re dissatisfied with the way the political system is working. Asked whom they mainly blame for that, 39 percent pick the congressional Republicans, 25 percent Obama. An additional 27 percent blame both equally.

JOBS and TAXES – The economy’s the problem, with the weekly Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index a point from its record low in more than 25 years. As noted, Obama’s jobs proposal has won some positive notice: Fifty-two percent of Americans support it, with 36 percent opposed and the rest withholding opinion. Even 21 percent of Republicans like the idea, as do 47 percent of independents (vs. 38 percent opposed) and more than eight in 10 Democrats.

Notably, somewhat more, 58 percent, think Obama’s jobs package, if it passed Congress, in fact would do a great deal or somewhat to create jobs – including 91 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of independents and a quarter of Republicans. (The slight gap between support for the package and the belief it’ll create jobs may reflect a cost-benefit evaluation.)

Of those who don’t think the plan will work, moreover, there’s an even division in whether that’s because it’s a bad plan – or because the problem is too big for government to solve.

Among the elements of Obama’s plan, one theme especially hits its populist mark: Seventy-five percent of Americans support raising taxes on Americans with annual incomes over $1 million. (Not quite what Obama suggested, but conceptually similar.)

Taxing millionaires in fact is one of the rare political issues to draw bipartisan majority support – 57 percent from Republicans, 75 percent among independents and 89 percent among Democrats. Even among supporters of the Tea Party political movement, 55 percent support raising taxes on millionaires, although this drops to 36 percent of “strong” Tea Party backers.

SUPERCOMMITTEE – Tax and spending measures are hot on the desk of the so-called supercommittee in Congress, formed in the summer’s default-avoidance deal to come up with $1.5 trillion in 10-year deficit reduction by late next month. Among attitudes on its work:

- By 2-1, 64 percent to 31 percent, Americans say it should hit its mark through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, rather than by spending cuts alone. (That may be more fodder for Obama vs. the GOP in the deficit debate; however, more generally, Americans divide in trust to find the right balance between budget cutting and needed spending, Obama vs. the Republicans, 44-39 percent – so the GOP has some pushback.)

- At the same time, suggestions that Democrats may seek a revision of the tax code to reduce available tax deductions does not draw broad support – just 43 percent favor reducing personal tax deductions; about the same, 42 percent, support reducing business tax deductions. (Given support for taxing millionaires, views on removing tax deductions may be movable based on who takes the hit.)

- Reflecting the public’s low confidence in all things congressional, 74 percent do not think the supercommittee will reach agreement on a plan.

If the committee doesn’t strike a deal; the cuts are set to start automatically in January 2013, half from domestic spending, half from the military – an outcome 57 percent of Americans oppose, holding out the prospect of further ire directed at Congress and the White House alike.

DIRECTIONS – One take-away from these results is that Obama’s likely to shout out his jobs plan often and loudly in the months ahead, for the simple reason that, in a presidency short of punching power, this one’s working. Another is that the Republicans have their own resonance on taxes (the question of millionaires aside), as well as on right-sizing the government.

And the third is that Obama, in the election year ahead, may try his best not to run against his eventual Republican opponent – but, a la Harry Truman, against the Republicans in Congress.

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