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Confidence in Obama reaches new low, Washington Post-ABC News poll finds

Obama called the agreement for BP to put $20 billion into escrow "a good start" that will reassure people "I was talking to in the gulf that BP will meet its responsibilities."

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Public opinion is split down the middle on the question of whether the government should spend more money to stimulate the economy in a way that leads to job creation. Among those who support such new spending, 18 percent change their minds when asked what they think if such outlays could sharply increase the budget deficit. In that scenario, 57 percent opposed another round of spending.

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About six in 10 Democrats say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who favors new government spending, while 55 percent of Republicans say they would be less likely to do so. Independent voters are divided on the question, with 41 percent more apt to oppose and 35 percent to support.

On at least one issue pending in Congress there is broader agreement: A sizable majority says the government should extend unemployment benefits.

Most Democrats and independents support increasing the time limit on government payments for jobless claims, and they are joined by 43 percent of Republicans. The notion clearly divides the GOP: Sixty percent of conservative Republicans oppose the idea, while 57 percent of moderate or liberal Republicans support it.

Low marks on deficit

On the question of Obama's leadership, 42 percent of registered voters now say they have confidence that he will make the right decisions for the country, with 58 saying they do not. At the start of his presidency, about six in 10 expressed confidence in his decision-making.

Obama's overall job-approval rating stands at 50 percent, equaling his low point in Post-ABC polling; 47 percent disapprove of the job he is doing. For the first time in his presidency, those who strongly disapprove now significantly outnumber those who strongly approve.

Among those who say they definitely will vote in November, 53 percent disapprove of the way he is handling his responsibilities.

The president's approval ratings reached a new low among whites, at 40 percent, with his positive marks dipping under 50 percent for the first time among white college-educated women.

On the issues tested in the poll, Obama's worst ratings come on his handling of the federal budget deficit, where 56 percent disapprove and 40 percent approve. He scores somewhat better on health-care reform (45 percent approve) and regulation of the financial industry (44 percent). His best marks come on his duties as commander in chief, with 55 percent approving.

Obama's overall standing puts him at about the same place President Bill Clinton was in the summer of 1994, a few months before Republicans captured the House and Senate in an electoral landslide.

President Ronald Reagan, who also contended with a serious recession at the outset of his first term, was a little lower at this point in 1982, with a 46 percent to 45 percent split on his approval ratings. Republicans went on to lose about two dozen seats in the House that fall.

Of course, Reagan and Clinton subsequently rebounded and went on to win reelection easily. Obama advisers find some hope from that history, even as the historical record foreshadows Democratic losses this November.

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