President Obama's job ratings have lost steam since a small early-2015 surge, but Democrats are positive about changes Hillary Rodham Clinton might bring, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.
With 18 months left in office, the poll depicts an unappealing legacy taking shape for Obama. His job ratings are significantly below average for presidents in the past 70 years, he receives sharply negative marks for dealing with the Islamic State, and Republicans are far more passionate in dislike of Obama than Democrats are in supporting him. Each factor poses challenges for Democrats seeking to secure a third consecutive term for the party.
Americans, though, expect Clinton to offer a different path; 58 percent expect she will come up with new policies if elected president rather than follow Obama's, and most who expect new ideas say this is a "good thing." Among Democrats, two-thirds expect Clinton to follow her own path and the vast majority see this as a positive move.
Overall, 54 percent say she'll either pursue new policies and that it's a good thing (44 percent) or that she'll pursue the same policies and that's a good thing (10 percent).
The Post/ABC poll finds 45 percent approve of the way Obama is handling his job while 49 percent disapprove. Obama's approval marks are better than the low 40s of late last year, but down from 50 percent approval in January and 47 percent in March. Other public polls showed an even more modest rise, with current ratings also tilting negative.
Obama gained traction early this year after months of strong economic news, and a January Post/ABC poll found 41 percent saying the economy was at least "good" -- up from 24 percent in late 2013. The economy's shrinking first quarter might have stalled Obama's gains, but the poll shows the issue is not as much of a drag on his approval as before -- his economic approval rating is two points above his overall job approval mark, a positive gap that occurred in just five of 56 previous Post/ABC surveys. Americans are still far from cheery on the issue, with 73 percent saying they are very or somewhat worried about its direction over the next few years.
One possible reason Obama's overall numbers lag behind his economic numbers: Americans are increasingly upset with Obama's handling of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. By a 24-point margin, more disapprove than approve of Obama's handling of the situation (55-31) less than a month after the terrorist group captured the major Iraqi city of Ramadi. The negative judgment marks a flip from September, when 50 percent approved of Obama's handling of the issue after he ordered airstrikes to combat insurgents. The issue has highlighted Obama's often-weak support from fellow Democrats for his performance on foreign affairs; fewer than half of Democrats approve of how he has handled the issue (49 percent), 28 points lower than his overall job rating among fellow partisans.
Historically, Obama's standing is below the 56 percent average of presidential approval ratings in Washington Post/ABC News and Gallup polls dating back to the 1930s. His 45 percent mark is also just below average for other two-term presidents at this stage. He is significantly higher than George W. Bush (35 percent) and Harry Truman (24 percent) but lower than Ronald Reagan (52 percent), Bill Clinton (59 percent) and Dwight Eisenhower (64 percent) at this point in their presidencies.
A bigger challenge for Obama's personal legacy is the sheer intensity of disapproval, which was also seen under George W. Bush. Nearly four in 10 (38 percent) strongly disapprove of his job performance, while 22 percent strongly approve.
At the root of this gap are vastly different levels of passion among Democrats and Republicans. Fully 73 percent of Republicans strongly disapprove of Obama, compared with 45 percent of Democrats who strongly approve. In June 2007, partisans were flipped by almost identical numbers, with 73 percent of Democrats strongly disapproving of Bush and 40 percent of Republicans strongly approving.
The latest Post/ABC poll was conducted by telephone Thursday through Sunday among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including users of land-line and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is 3.5 percentage points. Detailed methodology on the survey can be found here.
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.