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Faith in Obama Drops As Reform Fears Rise

Health-Care Effort Is Major Factor, Poll Finds

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 21, 2009

Public confidence in President Obama's leadership has declined sharply over the summer, amid intensifying opposition to health-care reform that threatens to undercut his attempt to enact major changes to the system, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

This Story

Among all Americans, 49 percent now express confidence that Obama will make the right decisions for the country, down from 60 percent at the 100-day mark in his presidency. Forty-nine percent now say they think he will be able to spearhead significant improvements in the system, down nearly 20 percentage points from before he took office.

As challenges to Obama's initiatives have mounted over the summer, pessimism in the nation's direction has risen: Fifty-five percent see things as pretty seriously on the wrong track, up from 48 percent in April.

But there has been a notable increase in optimism about the length of the recession: Half of all Americans expect it to be over within the next 12 months. In February, just 28 percent said the recession would end that rapidly.

Obama's economic stimulus plan has come under attack from Republicans, who say it has failed to bring tangible benefits. But in the poll, almost twice as many say the program has made things better as say it has made things worse (43 percent to 23 percent), with a third saying the plan has had no effect.

The president's overall approval rating stands at 57 percent, 12 points lower than its April peak, as disapproval has ticked up to 40 percent, its highest yet. On specific issues, Obama received more mixed marks. A majority, 53 percent, now disapprove of his handling of the federal budget deficit, and his ratings on health care continue to deteriorate. On the marquee issue of the economy, 52 percent approve of his actions, unchanged from June.

Despite the decline in general confidence in Obama, there is still little competition in the battle for public trust: Just 21 percent say they think congressional Republicans will make the right decisions for the country's future, while 35 percent have confidence in Democrats.

Disapproval of Obama's handling of the health-care issue reached 50 percent in the new poll, the highest of his presidency, and 42 percent of those surveyed say they now "strongly disapprove" of the way he is dealing with his main domestic priority. Views of the president's actions on reform have dropped most sharply among seniors and independents.

The Public Option

The poll was completed just as a new debate about a public health insurance option erupted after administration officials appeared to signal their willingness to jettison the proposal as part of an eventual compromise. White House officials later insisted that there had been no change in their support for the public option as they sought to reassure Democrats furious about what they regarded as an administration cave-in.

In the survey, 52 percent of Americans said they favor the government's creation of a new health insurance plan to compete with private insurers, while 46 percent are opposed. That is a big shift from late June, when 62 percent backed the notion and 33 percent opposed it.

The drop in support for the public option has been particularly steep among political independents, the closely watched group so critical to the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and Obama's victory last year. Two months ago, independents supported the public option by a 2 to 1 ratio. Now, 50 percent are in favor, and 47 percent are opposed.

Seniors have also become decidedly negative toward the proposal: In June, seniors were evenly split on the plan, but now a majority strongly oppose the idea.


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