Public still anxious over economy, has little faith in Washington, poll finds

McClatchy NewspapersApril 3, 2013 

The White House in Washington, home to President Obama

TISH WELLS — McClatchy

— President Barack Obama’s job approval rating is a so-so 50 percent, as Americans continue to have serious concerns about whether the country is headed in the right direction, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.

People want a speedier, more robust economic recovery, and they’re sick of the bickering that’s characterized Washington’s budget battles for years, the survey shows.

The poll numbers reflect those frustrations. Though the economy continues to grow, nearly six in 10 people believe the country is on the wrong track.

Congress and Obama, whose approval numbers have been in the 45 percent to 50 percent range for a year, pay the political price, even as economic numbers suggest a strengthening recovery. Unemployment fell to 7.7 percent in February, its lowest level since December 2008. The long-suffering housing industry appears to be enjoying a rebound.

But the nation also continues to feel the effects, both real and psychological, of the 2007-09 Great Recession, the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

“There’s a general sense that things have not improved at a pace people would be pleased with,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the March 25-27 survey.

Adding to the grim mood is Washington. The poll found that people have little faith in Washington officials to help ease their economic pain. Half of the respondents trusted Obama to make the right decisions about the federal budget, while 41 percent trusted congressional Republicans.

“There are no winners in all this when it comes to fighting about budgets,” said Miringoff.

Fifty-three percent disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy, a group comprised of nearly nine in 10 Republicans and 56 percent of independents, while 44 percent – mostly Democrats – approved. Obama got support from four of five African-Americans, 55 percent of Latinos and 35 percent of whites.

His overall job approval numbers are impacted by the Washington gridlock.

“People have picked sides regarding what they think about the president and congressional Republicans,” Miringoff said.

The president’s 50 percent job approval rating was the same as he logged in November and December. In the latest survey, 84 percent of Democrats gave Obama high marks overall, compared with 12 percent of Republicans and 47 percent of independents.

Congress fared far worse. Sixty-two percent disapproved of the job congressional Democrats are doing, while 71 percent felt the same way about congressional Republicans. Democrats control the Senate, while Republicans control the House of Representatives.

The poll was conducted a few days after the Senate passed a Democratic-authored budget plan and the House approved a Republican blueprint. The final budget is supposed to be adopted by April 15, but Congress is in a spring recess that began March 22 and is not scheduled to end until Monday.

Obama is expected to introduce his own budget proposal April 10, but no one expects lawmakers to compromise and adopt any of the plans.

Nearly half the respondents in the poll blamed the president for “gridlock” on the budget; a third blamed congressional Republicans.

Instead, the White House is trying to engage House and Senate members from both parties to reach a deal to curb spending. Americans are not optimistic. Fifty-six percent disapproved of how the president is handling budget negotiations, while nearly seven in 10 felt the same way about Republicans.

A similar effort in 2011 took weeks and resulted in a plan to cut trillions of dollars from anticipated spending.

The plan included the $85 billion in automatic spending reductions that went into effect March 1. Despite the furor over the cuts, Americans don’t seem overly concerned.

Nearly two-thirds said the cuts, called a sequester, had no effect on their families. Forty percent said the cuts had no impact on the economy, while 36 percent saw a negative effect.;Twitter:@lightmandavid

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