Poll: Obama, Democrats end the year politically weaker

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 8, 2009 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party end the year far weaker than they started it, according to a McClatchy-Ipsos poll released Tuesday.

Obama has the lowest approval rating of his presidency — 49 percent — slipping below 50 percent in the poll for the first time and entering a danger zone for presidents heading into a midterm election year.

The sinking numbers extend to his party as well. The Democratic Party has lost double-digit ground to the Republican Party on every issue, including the economy, other domestic issues such as health care and foreign affairs.

On the economy, for example, it clings to a 1-point edge over the Republicans, down sharply from the 31-point advantage it enjoyed a year ago.

Underlying it all: a sour mood. The American people have the worst view of the country since Obama's election, with just 36 percent saying it's on the right track and 60 percent saying it's on the wrong track.

The numbers show how much Obama and the Democrats have lost since their triumphant victory a year ago, when they won the White House and added to their majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The figures also underscore the challenging environment they face as they head into 2010, when the House and a third of the Senate are up for election.

"The public is declaring the honeymoon over," said Michael Gross, the vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the polls.

The biggest drag is the economy, Gross said.

"To an extent, people were willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. But until there are some big gains in jobs or tangible benefits in people's lives, the president and the Democratic Party are going to bear the brunt of the public anxiety."

The survey found 49 percent approving the way Obama is doing his job, dropping from 53 percent in October. It found 49 percent disapproving.

Dropping below 50 percent is a warning sign of political peril if not corrected.

Since 1962, presidents with approval ratings below 50 percent have lost an average of 41 seats in midterm House elections. That's precisely the number that would cost Democrats control of the House this time.

Obama still has the approval of 77 percent of Democrats, though that dropped below 80 percent for the first time. Republicans remained strongly negative, with just 16 percent approving and 81 percent disapproving.

His bigger challenge might be independents, with approval among the swing bloc dropping to 41 percent and disapproval leaping to 55 percent, a jump of 14 percentage points since October.

On issues, the Democrats lost support across the board as Republicans gained.

Among the economic and budget issues:

  • On reducing the federal deficit, their 30-point edge a year ago has given way to a 7-point deficit.
  • On taxes, they were up by 17 points; now they're down by 2.
Among other domestic issues:

  • On health care, they were up 39 points. Now they're up by 4.
  • On the environment, they were up by 44 points; they're now up by 25.
  • On education, they were up by 35; now they're up by 15.
  • On morality, they were up by 20 points; now they're up by 1.

Among foreign affairs and defense issues:

  • On foreign policy, they were up by 20; they're now up by 1.
  • On regaining international respect for the United States, they were up by 31; they're now up by 8.
  • On Iraq, they were up by 21; they're now up by 5.
  • On protecting against terrorism at home, they were up by 9; they're now down by 7.

Democrats also lost some of the luster of their brand name, at the same time that the Republicans started rebuilding the value of their brand.

Americans have a favorable view of the Democratic Party by 51-46 percent. While that's still a positive rating overall, the 5-point margin is much smaller than the 27-point margin a year ago, when 61 percent had a favorable view of the party and 34 percent had an unfavorable view.

Views of the Republican Party have improved from a year ago, when it was still closely identified with an unpopular president.

The poll found 44 percent with a favorable view of the party and 54 percent with an unfavorable view, a net negative rating of 10 percentage points. A year ago, 36 percent had a favorable view and 58 percent had an unfavorable view.

METHODOLOGY:

These are some of the findings of a McClatchy-Ipsos poll conducted Thursday through Sunday. For the survey, Ipsos interviewed a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 1,120 people 18 and older across the United States. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 2.93 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult population in the U.S. been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including coverage and measurement error. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. population according to U.S. Census figures. Respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.

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McClatchy-Ipsos poll

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