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Approval Ratings Drop for Obama on Health Care, Other Issues

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By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 20, 2009

Heading into a critical period in the debate over health-care reform, public approval of President Obama's stewardship on the issue has dropped below the 50 percent threshold for the first time, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

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Obama's approval ratings on other front-burner issues, such as the economy and the federal budget deficit, have also slipped over the summer, as rising concern about spending and continuing worries about the economy combine to challenge his administration. Barely more than half approve of the way he is handling unemployment, which now tops 10 percent in 15 states and the District.

The president's overall approval rating remains higher than his marks on particular domestic issues, with 59 percent giving him positive reviews and 37 percent disapproving. But this is the first time in his presidency that Obama has fallen under 60 percent in Post-ABC polling, and the rating is six percentage points lower than it was a month ago.

Obama has taken on a series of major problems during his young presidency, but he faces a particularly difficult fight over his effort to encourage Congress to pass an overhaul of the nation's health-care system.

The legislation has run into problems in the House and Senate, as lawmakers struggle to contain spiraling costs and avoid ballooning the deficit.

Since April, approval of Obama's handling of health care has dropped from 57 percent to 49 percent, with disapproval rising from 29 percent to 44 percent. Obama still maintains a large advantage over congressional Republicans in terms of public trust on the issue, even as the GOP has closed the gap.

The erosion in Obama's overall rating on health care is particularly notable among political independents: While positive in their assessments of his handling of health-care reform at the 100-day mark of his presidency (53 percent approved and 30 percent disapproved), independents now are divided at 44 percent positive and 49 percent negative.

At the same time, there is no slackening in public desire for Obama to keep pressing for action on the major issues of the economy, health care and the deficit. Majorities think he is either doing the right amount or should put greater emphasis on each of these issues.

On health care, the poll, conducted by telephone Wednesday through Saturday, found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) approve of the outlines of the legislation now heading toward floor action. The measure would institute new individual and employer insurance mandates and create a government-run plan to compete with private insurers. Its costs would be paid in part through new taxes on high-income earners.

There are sharp differences in support for this basic package based on income, as well as a deep divide along party lines. Three-quarters of Democrats back the plan, as do nearly six in 10 independents. More than three-quarters of Republicans are opposed. About two-thirds of those with household incomes below $50,000 favor the plan, and a slim majority (52 percent) of those with higher incomes are against it. The income divide is even starker among independents.

Republicans have hammered the president and congressional Democrats over the cost of an health-care overhaul and its potential impact on the federal deficit, twin issues that have emerged as a possible brake on any new package.

Obama's approval rating on his handling of the deficit is down to 43 percent, as independents now tilt toward disapproval (42 percent approve; 48 percent disapprove).


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