President Obama's approval rating has dropped back into negative territory in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, accompanying record-low ratings for dealing with terrorism following deadly attacks in Paris.
The poll finds 46 percent approve of Obama while 50 percent disapprove, a reversal from a 51-45 positive margin in October, which marked his best score in more than two years. The share of Americans who "strongly disapprove" of Obama is back up to 40 percent, the highest mark since December.
Economic problems that dogged Obama's ratings for years do not appear to be at fault for the latest slip; 48 percent approve and 48 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy. Those numbers have been steady for about a year now.
But approval of Obama's handling of terrorism has shifted markedly since before the Paris attacks, flipping what was once Obama's strongest issue to a clear weakness. Approval of Obama's handling of the terrorism threat fell to a new low of 40 percent in the survey, down seven points from January. The share who "strongly disapprove" of Obama on terrorism jumped from 31 percent to 43 percent, far surpassing the previous record high of 35 percent.
Obama is rated worse still when asked about his handling of the Islamic State. A 57 percent majority disapprove, with 46 percent strongly disapproving.
After the Paris attacks, the Post-ABC poll found a sharp rise in the share of voters saying a major terrorist attack in the U.S. is "very likely," to 40 percent. Among this group, fewer than 3 in 10 approve of Obama's overall performance, while 7 in 10 disapprove. Partisanship plays a clear role in this dynamic since Republicans are most likely to say an attack is likely. But even among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, Obama's approval rating is 21 points lower among those who say an attack is "very likely" than those who say it is "somewhat likely" or less (61 percent vs. 82 percent).
Obama last week fiercely defended his Islamic State strategy, which consists of air strikes as well as training and coordination with local forces battling the extremist group, and he has said repeatedly he will not change course after Paris. During a a nine-day overseas trip, Obama rebuked Republicans' calls to block refugees from Syria or single out Muslim refugees for exclusion.
Interestingly enough, Obama's ratings on terrorism do not seem to have hampered his former secretary of state and potential successor as Democratic president. Hillary Clinton topped all GOP challengers on the issue of terrorism in previously released Post-ABC poll numbers.
The Post-ABC poll finds Americans voicing an appetite for greater military action against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, with 73 percent supporting increased air strikes — 52 percent strongly — and 60 percent supporting the increased use of ground forces. There appears to be little support for a large-scale or U.S.-led effort, however, with only 33 percent in favor of increasing ground forces by a "large number" and two-thirds of saying the U.S. should take a supporting role in responding to the Paris attacks, not a leading one.
Asked about Syrian refugees, the poll found 54 percent opposed to allowing refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries to come to the U.S., even if they are screened for security. Trust in government's competence is one factor: less than half of Americans are "very" or "somewhat" confident the U.S. government can identify and keep out possible terrorists who might be among the refugees.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Nov. 16-19 among a random national sample of 1,004 adults reached on cellular and conventional telephones by live interviewers. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.