8 takeaways from the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll

February 27, 2013

The Fix celebrates the release of big national polls like some people celebrate their birthdays. (Yes, we know that's weird.)

So, the release of the monthly NBC-Wall Street Journal national survey today occasioned a bit of giddiness in Fix world this morning. It was a little like this:

Once we calmed down, we started sifting through the data and highlighted a few of the more noteworthy findings. They're below. And here's the full poll questionnaire so you can draw your own conclusions.

1. President Obama's losing altitude on the economy...: In NBC-WSJ polling done in December and January, more people approved of how the president was handling the economy than disapproved -- albeit it very narrowly.  That trend reversed itself in this poll with 44 percent of the sample approving of how he has dealt with the issue and 51 percent disapproving. (Obama's overall approval numbers are also off slightly; he is at 50 percent approval in the February survey after being at 52 and 53 percent, respectively, in January 2013 and December 2012 NBC-WSJ polling.)

2. ....but Democrats hold an edge over Republicans on most issues:  The poll asked respondents which party they trusted more to deal with 12 different issues -- from Medicare to taxes to national defense. On nine of those 12 -- including taxes(!) -- Democrats held a "trust" edge over Republicans. The Democrats' lead ranged from 22 points (on "looking out for the middle class") to 3 points (on taxes).  Republicans held an advantage on reducing the federal deficit, controlling government spending and ensuring a strong national defense.

3. People want stricter gun laws...: In a major reversal, more than six in ten (61 percent) say that "laws covering the sale of firearms" should be made more strict while 34 percent want the laws kept the same and four percent want them made less strict.  That 61 percent number is all the more astounding given that as recently as October 2010 just 44 percent of people favored more strict gun laws.  What the data suggests is that the murder in Newtown, Connecticut in late 2012 did fundamentally alter the way the American public views gun control.

4. ....but the National Rifle Association isn't a villain: While the NRA is cast by many gun control advocates inside the Beltway as the face of everything that is wrong with the gun debate, the broader U.S. population doesn't see the organization in anywhere near that negative a light. Forty two percent regard the NRA positively while 34 percent view it negatively. That's a better score than the Democratic and Republican parties, the Catholic Church, Chuck Hagel and even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

5. A majority of Americans think President Obama is a "liberal"...:  Fifty three percent described Obama as either "very liberal" (32 percent) or "somewhat liberal" (21 percent).   Just 31 percent described him as a moderate while 9 percent said he was a conservative.

6. ....and/but more Americans agree with what his proposals than with those of Republicans in Congress: Forty five percent of those tested said they agreed with "most" of what President Obama is proposing to do (no specifics were given) while just 29 percent said the same of Republicans in Congress. Does that mean the country is growing more liberal? Or is it simply another offshoot of the fact that the Republican brand is badly tarnished at the moment?

7. The back and forth over the sequester is driving confidence down...: A majority (51 percent) said that the negotiations over the budget make them less confident about the prospects of the economy getting better.   Just 16 percent said it makes them more confident and 29 percent said it makes no difference. (We wrote about how Congress is driving confidence down in a Monday column earlier this month.)

8. ....but people are divided on whether the sequester is a necessary evil: Broadly, people think the sequester is a bad idea. But, drill down and the picture is more complicated. Fifty percent said that the spending cuts are "too severe and will hurt our economy" but 46 percent said that while the cuts weren't "perfect" that the "time for dramatic measures to reduce the deficit" has arrived.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · February 27, 2013