Obama’s ratings tumble after health-care flaws

Video: President Obama defended his health-care law during a long question and answer session about the Affordable Care Act Friday. “I'm not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time," he said.

The flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act has pushed President Obama to the lowest point of his presidency, with dwindling faith in his competence and in many of the personal attributes that have buoyed him in the past, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Opposition to the new health-care law also hit a record high in the survey, with 57 percent saying they oppose the president’s most significant domestic initiative. Forty-six percent say they are strongly against it. Just a month ago, as the enrollment period was beginning, the public was almost evenly divided in its assessments of the law.

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Obama’ s job approval ratings slip while Obamacare support wanes.
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Obama’ s job approval ratings slip while Obamacare support wanes.

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Disapproval of Obama’s handling of the health-care law’s rollout stands at 63 percent, with a majority saying they strongly disapprove. Last month, 53 percent disapproved.

The findings are the first since Obama’s news conference last week in which he repeatedly acknowledged his and the administration’s mistakes in handling the legislation. He also sought to assuage the anger among millions of Americans whose individual policies were canceled because they did not meet the new requirements.

The provision of the legislation that requires all individuals to obtain health insurance or pay a fine long has been controversial, and the survey highlights that anew. By almost 2 to 1, Americans oppose the individual mandate, with more than half saying they strongly oppose it. In contrast, almost six in 10 support the provision that requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance or face a financial penalty.

Because of the problems with HealthCare.Gov, the federal Web site designed to allow people to sign up for insurance, seven in 10 Americans say the administration should delay the individual mandate.

The public views the uproar over canceled policies, which has roiled the administration over the past month, as more than the normal start-up problems of a large enterprise. A majority say the trouble is a sign of mismanagement by those in charge of implementing the law.

Because of the cancellations, Obama has come under sharp criticism for having said repeatedly that people who liked their policies could keep them. The Post-ABC survey asked people whether they thought that he told the public what he believed to be true or that he intentionally misled. By 52 percent to 44 percent, Americans say they think he told people what he thought was correct at the time.

With all the controversy surrounding the implementation of the law, Americans are evenly divided on whether the Affordable Care Act can be fixed.

Responses to that question differ dramatically depending on party identification, with Democrats overwhelmingly confident that the legislation can be made to work and Republicans overwhelmingly pessimistic about its viability. A majority of independents say it cannot be made to work.

The health-care law has become a political burden for elected officials who support it. Almost four in 10 Americans say they are more likely to oppose a politician who backs the legislation, while just over a fifth say they would be more likely to support such a politician. That’s the biggest gap recorded in Post-ABC polling during the entire debate over the law.

And Obama is the chief target. His overall approval rating has fallen to 42 percent, having dropped six percentage points in a month, and equals his record low in Post-ABC polls. His disapproval rating stands at 55 percent, which is the worst of his presidency. Forty-four percent say they strongly disapprove of the way he is handling his job, also the worst of his presidency.

The damage to the president raises questions about whether improvements to the law alone could boost his standing significantly and, if not, the implications for the rest of his second-term agenda. White House officials have said they recognize that the president’s problems will not be cured quickly. They think that as the health-care Web site improves and as the economy grows, he will recover. For now, however, as support for the law drops, so, too, does Obama’s standing.

Obama has hit other rough stretches in his presidency, whether because of unhappiness about the economy, controversy over health-care reform or reaction to unexpected problems such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But in those cases, his standing was helped somewhat by favorable impressions of him personally.

Today, those have eroded. To recover, Obama must rebuild a sense of trust with Americans while trying to make sure that the health-care law works as planned and gains support from a larger percentage of the public.

For the first time in Obama’s presidency, a bare majority of Americans, 52 percent, say they have an unfavorable impression of him, with 46 percent saying they view him favorably. Those ratings have declined from a net positive of 23 points at the time of his inauguration in January.

On three measures of leadership and empathy that have been tested repeatedly in Post-ABC polls, Obama now is underwater on all three for the first time. Half or more now say he is not a strong leader, does not understand the problems of “people like you,” and is not honest and trustworthy. Perceptions of the president as a strong leader have dropped 15 points since January, and over the past year the percentage of registered voters who say he is not honest and trustworthy has increased 12 points.

The new survey also asked people whether they consider Obama a good manager. In what appears to be a direct link to the problems of the health-care rollout, 56 percent say no and 41 percent say yes.

One reason for the sharp decline in Obama’s standings is defection among independents and, to a lesser extent, self-identified moderates. Over the past month, the president’s overall job-disapproval rating has moved to a record-high 63 percent among independents and 50 percent among moderates. His disapproval specifically on handling the health-care rollout has increased 14 points among independents and moderates since October.

For only the second time in his presidency, just as many people say Obama’s views are too liberal as say his views on most issues are just right (45 percent vs. 43 percent). The last time he was perceived this way was two months before the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House.

The survey asked people to rate the ideological leanings of the two political parties and of the tea party movement. Forty-three percent say the Republican Party is too conservative, compared with 36 percent who say its views are just right. For Democrats, 46 percent say the party’s views are too liberal and 41 percent say they are about right.

Ratings for the tea party movement are quite similar to those of the Republican Party. But in the aftermath of the partial federal government shutdown, a majority say they oppose the movement for the second time in two months. And more than four in 10 say the movement has too much influence on the GOP, while only 25 percent say its influence is about right.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted Nov. 14-17 among a random national sample of 1,006 adults, including interviews on landlines and with cellphone-
only respondents. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

 
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