As politicians ponder the state of the union, the union's looking back at the state of politics. And it's none too thrilled.
Fifty-six percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll express an unfavorable opinion of the nation's political system. About as many, 55 percent, hold a negative view of the policies they expect the Republicans in Congress to offer in the next four years.
Barack Obama does better, but not great: Fifty-two percent have a favorable opinion of the policies he'll pursue in his second term, while 43 percent see them unfavorably. That's similar to the 51-45 percent optimism-pessimism rating Americans gave the expected policies of George W. Bush heading into his second term.
Intensity of sentiment in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, also is better for the president. While similar numbers have a "strongly" negative opinion of all three, roughly twice as many see Obama's plans strongly positively as say the same of the GOP's plans and the political system overall, 30 percent vs. 14 and 16 percent, respectively.
The results come as the president prepares for his State of the Union address and the Republicans for their rebuttal this evening. With unemployment stubbornly high, the public's broad discontent with the political system likely reflects longstanding economic gloom as well as dissatisfaction with politics itself. Moreover, deep partisan and ideological differences in assessments of Obama and the GOP's policy plans underscore the sharp divisions in the country that make the middle ground a tough place to claim.
PARTY - As things stand, 73 percent of Republicans approve of their own party's plans for the next four years. But following the 2012 election, nearly two-thirds are negative about the political system overall, and 86 percent see Obama's plans negatively.
Even Democrats only split about evenly, 51-47 percent favorable-unfavorable, on the political system overall. Nearly nine in 10 see Obama's agenda positively, while nearly eight in 10 respond negatively to the GOP's plans.
Obama also outpaces the GOP in intensity of support for his policy plans among the party faithful. While 57 percent of Democrats are "strongly" positive about the president's plans, only 32 percent of Republicans say the same about the plans of congressional Republicans.
Independents are better aligned with Obama, but not impressively so; they split evenly on Obama's prospective policies, while a majority looks askance at the GOP's plans. And when it comes to the political system overall, independents view it negatively by a 17-point margin.
Though majorities across the ideological spectrum see the present state of politics negatively, liberals are more positive about Obama's plans than are conservatives about the Republicans'. Moderates, for their part, are broadly supportive of Obama's agenda, but not the GOP's.
GROUPS - Apart from political allegiances, most Americans are in agreement that the political system is in a bad state. One notable exception, however, is Hispanics, who may be responding positively to their newfound electoral influence and the long-awaited movement on immigration reform: Sixty-two percent of Hispanics express a positive view of the political system overall, compared with only 45 percent of blacks and 37 percent of whites.
Eight in 10 Hispanics see the president's plans for his second term positively, and they divide 41-47 percent favorable-unfavorable on those of congressional Republicans. Majorities of whites see the plans of both sides negatively, while overwhelming majorities of blacks respond positively to Obama's direction, and negatively to the GOP's.
Among other groups, half or more of both sexes and across all age groups, regions, income and education brackets have an unfavorable opinion of the policies they expect Congressional Republicans will pursue. Obama, by contrast, has majorities among many groups on board with his plans, including women, single adults, those younger than 50 and those in the lower- to middle-income bracket. It puts him in the leadership position for the term ahead - albeit not by the commanding margin he might want.
METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cell phone Feb. 6-10, 2013, among a random national sample of 1,021 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS/Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa.