For the first time since last fall, President Obama's handling of the economy merits a positive rating from half of adults, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll . Still, most measures of public perceptions about the economy have shown little improvement. And as the parties stake out their economic claims in advance of the midterm elections, the percentage of respondents who say the economic stimulus program is helping has dwindled.
Overall, nearly nine in 10 rate the economy "not so good" or "poor," and while three in 10 see improvement, the same figure say things are getting worse. Among all adults, three in 10 say the government's efforts to stimulate the economy have helped, with about one in 10 seeing "a great deal" of progress from the government's efforts.
Fewer of those polled credit the stimulus program with helping the economy than did so last fall (37 percent said the program was helping in November, compared with 30 percent now). Those numbers are now about on par with those from last summer. Nearly half (49 percent) say the program has made no difference, up 10 points since November, while one in five (20 percent) say the package has damaged the economy.
Views on the stimulus are more closely connected to perceptions of whether the economy is improving than to party identification. While 45 percent of Democrats think the package has helped, that climbs to 59 percent among those who say the nation's economic conditions are on the upswing. Likewise, while 11 percent of Republicans say the package has hurt the nation's economy, that jumps to 42 percent among those who think the economy is backsliding.
The inching up of Obama's approval rating on the economy comes as views of him as an empathetic president are on the decline. In the new poll, 51 percent say Obama "understands the problems of people like you" - a five-point drop from late March. The decline is nearly all among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (86 percent viewed him as empathetic in March; 76 percent do so now), and mostly among those with lower household incomes (61 percent in March vs. 47 percent now).