After a fierce debt ceiling debate, almost eight in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the political system and record numbers disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the economy. But with dwindling prospects of a booming recovery by next year’s election, Obama might pursue a new strategy that takes direct aim at a key segment of voters he must win in 2012; those who say he’s tried — but failed — to solve the country’s major problems.

More than four in 10 adults — 42 percent — fell into this group in a Washington Post poll conducted last week, and the group is largely undecided on whether to give Obama a second term: 21 percent say they’ll definitely vote for him, but 25 percent say they definitely will not; fully 50 percent, though, said they’ll consider voting for Obama. That’s better than the distribution among all Americans, for whom 44 percent said they definitely will not vote for him.  

Among other takes on Obama’s progress, he does quite well among the 19 percent of the public who say he’s made progress solving problems — 53 percent say they’ll definitely support him compared with just 1 percent who are definitely opposed. But his standing is almost unanimously negative among the 35 percent of Americans who say he has “not addressed” the biggest problems or “made them worse” — fully 93 percent of this group says they definitely will not support him in 2012.

So who are these “tried but failed” people that Obama must court all the way to next November? Interestingly, the group is not dominated by political independents — 37 percent identify as independent, same as the public overall. They are slightly more liberal and less conservative than the nation as a whole,  but they generally represent a cross-section of the public in terms of age, income, education, sex and race

Obama hinted at such a “tried but failed” argument at a town hall this week in Decorah, Iowa. After pitching an extension of the payroll tax cut amounting to $1,000 per family, at the meeting, Obama threatened “I will take my case to the American people that this vision is how we move the country forward,” arguing that if his opponents don’t go along, “they're going to be held to account by you — just like I'm going to be held to account by you.”

And in pitting himself against Republicans he already has an edge on “caring.” Americans said by a 53 to 35 percent margin that Obama cared more than congressional Republicans about the economic interests of middle class people in a Post-ABC poll last month , and he held a 10-point edge on caring about “you and your family.” On the opposite end, the public rated Republicans as caring more than Obama about Wall Street and big corporations by more than two to one.

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