WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is in a fragile position as the 2012 campaign begins: Only 37 percent of registered voters approve of his handling of the economy, his lowest rating ever, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
Another ominous sign for Obama: By nearly 2-1, voters disapprove of how he's handling the federal budget deficit, expected to hit a record $1.5 trillion this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
"It's a real caution sign ... the four-year lease on the White House is very much dependent on how people end up looking at the economy," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which performed the survey.
The poll of 1,003 adults, including 801 registered voters, was conducted June 15-23. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points for the entire sample and plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for registered voters.
The poll findings were released Monday, as the president increased his personal stake in stalled talks aimed at raising the federal debt ceiling while agreeing to long-term spending cuts. He met separately with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
There were glimmers of hope for Obama in the poll. Fifty percent of voters said they had favorable impressions of him, while 44 percent didn't, and by 2-1 Americans said that today's economic conditions mostly were something the president inherited rather than the result of his own policies.
He also fares better than Congress: Sixty-three percent disapproved of the job that Capitol Hill Republicans, who run the House of Representatives, are doing. Sixty percent disapproved of the Democrats who control the Senate.
"It's not like Washington is doing well on either side of Pennsylvania Avenue," Miringoff said.
Obama's political stature, like that of most modern presidents, largely rises and falls with the economy. He's been singed lately by gasoline prices that reached $4 a gallon, a May unemployment rate of 9.1 percent and an economy that grew at a modest 1.9 percent pace in this year's first quarter.
Overall, 45 percent said they approved of the job the president is doing, while 47 percent disapproved, a range that's held relatively steady since late 2009. As a result, Miringoff said, "this is a very competitive election year."
The economic numbers tell why: Fifty-eight percent of voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy, comprising 60 percent of independents, 31 percent of Democrats and 91 percent of Republicans.
But voters don't necessarily blame him for the economy. Sixty-one percent said he mostly inherited the economic conditions, including 30 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of independents. The recession began in December 2007, when George W. Bush was president.
Nor do voters like how the president is dealing with the budget deficit. Sixty-one percent disapprove, and 31 percent approve.
Yet personally, Obama still is viewed favorably by 50 percent of voters, a rating that's stayed fairly consistent since late 2009.
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