As the U.S. heads toward a potential government shutdown or default, the public is more alienated from Washington than at any time since the aftermath of the 2011 downgrade of the nation’s credit rating.
President Barack Obama’s 47 percent favorability rating and the 34 percent positive reading for Republicans are the worst ever for both in the Bloomberg National Poll, which began in 2009. The 44 percent approval rating of the Democratic Party is at a two-year low.
Obama’s 45 percent job-approval rating is the lowest since September 2011, a month after a partisan showdown over lifting the debt ceiling brought the U.S. to the brink of default.
Americans also are pessimistic about the course of the country, with 68 percent saying it’s headed in the wrong direction, the most in two years, according to the poll of 1,000 adults conducted Sept. 20-23.
“People are so divided and unwilling to compromise,” said poll respondent David Carpenter, a 40-year-old general contractor and political independent in Atlanta. “There’s no unity from the administration. He sticks to his ideals and points fingers. I don’t think that’s the right way to lead.”
Americans’ negative feelings about Washington contrast with more optimistic views about their own prospects. Thirty-five percent of respondents expect their financial security to improve during the next year, up from 25 percent in December 2012.
The poll results highlight the vulnerability of both Obama and congressional Republicans to a public backlash in the showdown they are approaching on the federal budget. A grumpy, divided public could turn on either political party — or both — if the economic recovery is thrown into turmoil because of Washington brinkmanship.
The president enters the fight with a “slippery advantage” in popularity over his opponents, said J. Ann Selzer, president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the survey for Bloomberg. “Obama has been damaged, but the Republicans haven’t crawled out of their own hole.”
House Republicans are demanding the defunding of Obama’s health-care law as the price for a temporary measure to keep the government open through Dec. 15. The deadline for action is Sept. 30, when the federal fiscal year ends. Obama has said he won’t accept the condition, setting up the possibility of a government shutdown if the issue isn’t resolved on time.
House Republicans also are imposing a series of conditions, including concessions on government spending levels and a revamp of the tax code, to raise the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit, which U.S. Treasury officials say they expect to exhaust as soon as mid-October.
No side has gained a clear advantage in assigning blame for the slow pace of economic growth, with 32 percent of Americans saying Obama has pursued the wrong policies, 29 percent saying Republicans have stymied growth by blocking Obama’s initiatives and 30 percent maintaining the recession was so severe that the government is limited in its ability to influence the rebound.
More than four years into the recovery, the U.S. has regained 6.8 million of the 8.7 million jobs lost since December 2007, which marks the beginning of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The $51,017 U.S. median household income last year was more than $4,600 below the pre-recession level in 2007 and the lowest since 1995.
Still, with the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 U.S. stock index up 19 percent this year, there was no fall-off in support for Obama among investors since the June Bloomberg poll. His job approval remained steady at 46 percent among Americans who own stocks, bonds or mutual funds. Among non-investors, Obama’s job rating plunged to 44 percent from 57 percent in June.
Among all Americans, Obama’s job approval declined four points since June. For the first time in the Bloomberg poll, more Americans, 49 percent, have an unfavorable view of Obama personally than those who view him favorably, 47 percent.
His decline in job approval during the past three months is most pronounced among his partisan allies, falling to 78 percent among Democrats from 86 percent in June. Among independents, his performance rating dropped to 38 percent from 44 percent. Republican assessments of the president’s job performance improved slightly to 14 percent from 11 percent.
Since June, Obama has weathered criticism from civil libertarians over disclosures of National Security Agency surveillance of telephone records and Internet communication.
His consideration of former economic adviser Lawrence Summers for Federal Reserve chairman aroused opposition from critics of the financial deregulation that Summers had backed as a member of President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Obama’s support for military intervention in Syria also generated a backlash from antiwar activists who supported his 2008 candidacy because of his opposition to the Iraq War.
Obama’s handling of the situation in Syria is overwhelmingly unpopular, with Americans disapproving by 53 percent versus 31 percent approving. While foreign affairs has been a strength of his presidency, Americans disapprove of his management of the U.S. reputation in the world, 51 percent to 43 percent.
The slip in Obama’s job approval crosses a spectrum of issues. Approval of his handling of the economy at 38 percent is the lowest level since September 2011. Support for Obama’s handling of the budget has dropped to a new low of 29 percent.
Just 39 percent of Americans approve of his management of negotiations with congressional Republican leaders, about the same as the 38 percent who said so in June and 37 percent who said so in September 2011.
The controversy over Obama’s consideration of a new chairman of the Fed hasn’t resonated with the public. While 33 percent approve and 25 percent disapprove of how he’s handling the selection process, more have no opinion: 42 percent said they weren’t sure of their view.
Summers, a one-time contender, withdrew from his name this month after several Democrats in the Senate announced their opposition to him and support for another candidate, Janet Yellen, the Fed’s current vice chairman.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
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