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Approval Ratings Drop for Obama on Health Care, Other Issues

More broadly, 55 percent of Americans put a higher priority on holding the deficit in check than on spending to boost the economy, compared with 40 percent who advocate additional outlays even if it means a sharply greater budget shortfall. This is a big shift from January, when a slim majority preferred to emphasize federal spending.

Independents, who split 50 percent to 46 percent for more spending in January, now break 56 percent to 41 percent for more fiscal discipline. But a larger shift has been among moderate and conservative Democrats, who prioritized more spending by about 2 to 1 in January and March. Now they are about evenly divided in approach.

Nearly a quarter of moderate and conservative Democrats (22 percent) now see Obama as an "old-style tax-and-spend Democrat," up from 4 percent in March. Among all Americans, 52 percent consider Obama a "new-style Democrat who will be careful with the public's money." That is down from 58 percent a month ago and 62 percent in March, to about where President Bill Clinton was on that question in the summer of 1993.

Concerns about the federal account balance are also reflected in views about another round of stimulus spending. In the new poll, more than six in 10 oppose spending beyond the $787 billion already allocated to boost the economy. Most Democrats support more spending; big majorities of Republicans and independents are against the idea.

Support for new spending is tempered by flagging confidence on Obama's plan for the economy. Fifty-six percent are confident that his programs will reap benefits, but that is down from 64 percent in March and from 72 percent just before he took office six months ago. More now say they have no confidence in the plan than say they are very confident it will work. Among independents and Republicans, confidence has decreased by 20 or more points; it has dropped seven points among Democrats.

Approval of Obama's handling of the overall economy stands at 52 percent, with 46 percent disapproving, and, for the first time in his presidency, more Americans strongly disapprove of his performance on the economy than strongly approve. Last month, 56 percent gave him positive marks on this issue.

More than three-quarters of all Americans say they are worried about the direction of the economy over the next few years, down only marginally since Obama's inauguration. Concerns about personal finances have also abated only moderately since January.

Obama declared ownership of the economic recovery, but the public still places far more blame on President George W. Bush's regulatory policies than on Obama's efforts for the state of the economy. But in the first read of a measurement that will be closely watched in coming years, nearly three in 10 say they are personally "not as well off" financially as they were when Obama took office.

Obama's leadership attributes remain highly rated, despite some slippage. Seven in 10 call him a strong leader, two in three say he cares about the problems of people like themselves, and just over six in 10 say he fulfilled a central campaign pledge and has brought needed change to Washington. However, he has dropped 10 points on the empathy question since April.

Obama still holds wide advantages over Republicans in Congress on the economy and the deficit, although the GOP has rebounded marginally from earlier in the year. The overall approval rating for congressional Republicans has increased six points since April, to 36 percent (compared with 47 percent approval for Democrats), and they have picked up five points vis-à-vis Obama on the deficit. They have gained seven on health care.

Beyond partisan shifts in Obama's ratings, sharp declines have occurred among those with household incomes above $50,000. And those with incomes above $50,000 now are split evenly between Obama and Republicans on dealing with health care. In June, they favored Obama by a 21-point margin.

A total of 1,001 randomly selected adults were interviewed for this poll; the margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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