By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 13, 2010; A01
Public confidence in President Obama has hit a new low, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. Four months before midterm elections that will define the second half of his term, nearly six in 10 voters say they lack faith in the president to make the right decisions for the country, and a clear majority once again disapproves of how he is dealing with the economy.
Regard for Obama is still higher than it is for members of Congress, but the gap has narrowed. About seven in 10 registered voters say they lack confidence in Democratic lawmakers and a similar proportion say so of Republican lawmakers.
Overall, more than a third of voters polled -- 36 percent -- say they have no confidence or only some confidence in the president, congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans. Among independents, this disillusionment is higher still. About two-thirds of all voters say they are dissatisfied with or angry about the way the federal government is working.
Such broad negative sentiments have spurred a potent anti-incumbent mood. Just 26 percent of registered voters say they are inclined to support their representative in the House this fall; 62 percent are inclined to look for someone new.
Democrats nationally remain on the defensive as they seek to retain both houses of Congress this fall. Registered voters are closely divided on the question of whether they will back Republicans or Democrats in House races. Among those who say they are sure to cast ballots in November, 49 percent side with the GOP and 45 percent with Democrats.
Overall, a slim majority of all voters say they would prefer Republican control of Congress so that the legislative branch would act as a check on the president's policies. Those most likely to vote in the midterms prefer the GOP over continued Democratic rule by a sizable margin of 56 percent to 41 percent.
Economic worries continue to frame the congressional campaigns. Almost all Americans rate the economy negatively, although compared with the depths of the recession in early 2009, far fewer now describe economic conditions as "poor." Only about a quarter of all Americans think the economy is improving.
Recent economic developments -- a declining stock market, problems in the housing industry and an unemployment report showing only tepid job growth in the private sector -- may have bruised the president's ratings.
Just 43 percent of all Americans now say they approve of the job Obama is doing on the economy, while 54 percent disapprove. Both are the worst, marginally, of his presidency. Even a third of Democrats give him negative marks here. And overall, intensity runs clearly against the president on the issue, with twice as many people rating him strongly negative as strongly positive.
At the same time, Democrats generally continue to hold the edge over Republicans when it comes to dealing with the nation's fragile economy. But that Democratic lead is slimmer than it was in 2006 before the party won back control of Congress. And among those most likely to vote this year, 39 percent trust the Democrats more and 40 percent the Republicans. About 17 percent of likely voters put their confidence in neither side.
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.
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.
The latest poll was conducted by conventional and cellular telephone Wednesday through Sunday among a random national sample of 1,288 adults including interviews with 1,151 registered voters. The results for the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta and polling assistant Kyle Dropp contributed to this report.
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