WASHINGTON — Mired in economic worry, Americans are growing gloomier about where the country is headed and the way President Barack Obama is leading it. Opinions of the economy are at the lowest of the year as high gas prices, anemic hiring and financial turmoil abroad shake a nation's confidence.
Obama has hit new highs he'd like to avoid — in public disapproval over his handling of the economy in general and unemployment in particular — according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. In addition, more disapprove of his handling of health care and the federal budget deficit than in the past.
The poll shows that four out of five people now believe the economy is in poor shape. The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, said Wednesday the economy was growing more slowly than expected but maintained that the causes were temporary.
The White House must hope so. A little more than 16 months before the November 2012 election, the public is split on whether the president deserves a second term.
It's the first time this year in AP-GfK polling that the respondents saying he deserves re-election have fallen below 50 percent, a demanding challenge for Obama. Economic concern has quickly stripped away the gloss he briefly gained after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Obama's re-election team is no doubt concerned as well. The president has been traveling every week for months to campaign battleground states to promote job initiatives. He acknowledges the sluggishness of the recovery, illustrated by May's uptick in unemployment.
The price of gasoline at the pump has declined a bit recently though it is still nearly 90 cents higher on average than a year ago. White House officials are also monitoring the precarious fiscal situation in Greece where a default by the government could send damaging financial tremors across world markets.
Obama's overall approval rating fell to 52 percent in the new poll, in line with his ratings before the daring raid in Pakistan by U.S. commandos last month that killed bin Laden.
"I just think that he's not doing his job the way he should be," said Mary Perrine, a grandmother of three from Indiana who said she has had to struggle to pay her bills.
Still, the poll also showed the public to be conflicted about the president. And their perceptions about the national economy were often at odds with their own personal experiences.
More people — 56 percent of respondents — had a favorable impression of Obama himself than approved of his performance. Moreover, about three-quarters of the survey participants said it is unrealistic to expect noticeable results on the economy in one term.
And despite the overwhelming sentiment that the national economy is in poor shape, more than three of five of those polled rated the financial situation of their own households as good. While glum about the current state of the economy, one-third said they expect it to get better over the next year. Less than a third said it would get worse, and the remainder said it would remain the same.
In another consolation for the president, he rates far better than Congress with the public. Congressional job disapproval climbed to 76 percent in the poll, a new high.
Obama may have to count on the likes of John Holdnak, a Florida Department of Education administrator, who didn't vote for him in 2008 buts believes "he has really stepped up to do this job."
Does Obama deserve re-election? "I don't know yet. A lot of things can happen now and between the election that could be his fault. At this particular juncture, he hasn't done anything in my mind not to be re-elected," said Holdnak, one of the survey participants.
The poll was conducted June 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
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