-- Persistent economic anxiety at home and the advance of Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria are complicating life for Barack Obama, helping push his job approval rating back under water, to its lowest of the year.
Forty-five percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of Obama’s job performance, while 49 percent disapprove, his weakest rating since late 2014. He’s lost 5 points in approval since January and hasn’t seen majority support since May 2013.
When it comes to presidential approval, hell hath no fury like economic discontent, and the economy’s gains haven’t been enough to calm fears on that front. Seventy-three percent remain worried about the economy’s direction, and among them Obama’s approval drops to 35 percent.
Further, Obama gets only a 31 percent approval rating specifically for handling the advance of Islamic State militants, with 55 percent disapproving. His approval for handling ISIS is 16 percentage points worse than his rating on handling the worrisome economy.
Gains by ISIS reopen a regretted chapter for many Americans. After easing slightly, 64 percent again make the painful judgment that the U.S.-led war in Iraq was not worth fighting. That’s up by 6 points from March 2013 and just 2 points from the broadest rejection of the war on record, 66 percent, at the height of Iraq’s sectarian strife in spring 2007.
The poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that Obama’s not receiving full blame for the situation. Forty percent of Americans mainly fault his military policy for the recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq; about as many, 38 percent, mainly blame the weakness of Iraq’s army. An additional 9 percent blame both equally.
That’s a highly partisan and ideological judgment; at its peak, 66 percent of strong conservatives mainly blame Obama, as do 56 percent of Republicans. Democrats, liberals and moderates, by contrast, are much more apt to pin ISIS’ advances on failings by the Iraqi military.
Economic worry is less partisan in nature, but still has that element: Eighty-nine percent of Republicans are worried about the condition of the economy over the next few years, as are 74 percent of independents and 64 percent of Democrats. The range, at its widest, is from 92 percent worry among conservative Republicans to 58 percent among liberal Democrats.
It’s striking, in any case, that even with recovery under way, 73 percent overall still are worried about the economy – down from a peak of 88 percent in October 2008, but still a mighty level of concern. Indeed nearly a third are “very” worried, the rest somewhat so.
There’s additional economic difficulty for the president: After improving from October through March, from 42 to 49 percent, public approval of his handling of the economy has flattened, at 47 percent, with 48 percent disapproving. Unsurprisingly, disapproval of how he’s handling the economy soars among those most worried about it, to 79 percent.
How to handle economic dislocation is likely to be an issue in the presidential election ahead. In this poll, Americans by a 2-1 margin, 62-31 percent, say the federal government should pursue policies that try to reduce the gap between wealthy and less well-off Americans. It’s another highly partisan and ideological issue, with Republicans and conservatives far more apt to oppose such policies, others more apt to support them.
As such, addressing wealth inequality is an issue that looks set to benefit the ultimate Democratic candidate in the election season. But, barring a turnaround, the public’s broad, continued economic worry, on Obama’s watch, offers pushback to the Republicans.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone May 28-31, 2015, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points for the full sample, including design effect. Partisan divisions are 30-22-36 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.