The American public is unusually pessimistic about the direction of the country and increasingly fed up with Washington gridlock, a sour mood reflected in the worst disapproval ratings for President Barack Obama since he took office nearly five years ago.
People give elected officials unusually low grades – 31 percent rated them “D” and 38 percent gave them an “F,” according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
“The lack of confidence in Washington to right itself is showing up,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York.
Obama’s disapproval rating climbed to 53 percent – the worst in 29 polls since he took office in January 2009 – while 43 percent approved of his job performance. The disapproval number was up sharply from the 47 percent reading in September and tops the previous high of 52 percent in September 2011.
Obama retained strong support among Democrats – 77-18 percent approval – and disdain from Republicans – 90-8 percent disapproval. Independents disapproved 56 percent to 41 percent.
Obama’s personal ratings were also down. By 52 percent to 46 percent, people had an unfavorable impression of him, the first time since November 2011 the negative number was higher. The unfavorable number was also the worst he’s endured.
Obama in recent weeks has been battered by turmoil over his health care program. The highly touted website where people could sign up for coverage proved to be a dysfunctional embarrassment, and Obama had to backtrack from his assertion that people could keep their plans if they wanted.
Congress fared even worse. By 74 percent to 22 percent, voters disapprove of the Republicans’ performance, the highest since the question was first asked in April 2011. Republicans control the House of Representatives and 45 of the Senate’s 100 seats.
People soured on Democrats, too. Sixty-four percent disapproved of congressional Democrats, who control the Senate. Both Republican and Democratic disapproval numbers were up sharply from the last poll in July.
The numbers show that “the unsures have cast their vote with the negatives,” Miringoff said.
The key reason for the glum ratings is the economy. Though indicators suggest a healthy rebound, people aren’t feeling it. Instead, said Miringoff, the two Washington stories that have dominated headlines in recent months were the 16-day October government shutdown and the health care chaos.
That helped create pessimism that found two-thirds seeing things going in the wrong direction, while 30 percent felt matters were heading in the right direction.
Democrats were more optimistic, with the right-wrong direction split 57 percent to 40 percent. Republicans overwhelmingly saw the country moving the wrong way – 95 percent to 4 percent – and independents saw matters heading in the wrong direction, 69 percent to 26 percent.
The federal budget drama is the most obvious symbol of Washington inertia. Lawmakers have wrangled all year, passing stopgaps after extended, often bitter debate. Negotiators this week are said to be close on a deal that will avoid another shutdown when money again runs out Jan. 15.
Obama gets low marks for his handling of the economy. Fifty-eight percent disapproved of how he’s dealing with it, while 40 percent approved.
More people blame Republicans for the budget mess – 48 percent said it’s their fault while 38 percent named Obama.
Obama suffered in two other areas where he had shown some strength, foreign policy and personal appeal.
The latest poll was conducted after the administration announced a pact with Iran that eases some sanctions on that country, in exchange for some limits on Iran’s nuclear program.
That plan has won little congressional support, as lawmakers from both parties have expressed doubts. Forty-six percent approved of Obama’s handling of foreign policy, while 51 percent did not.
Voters have mixed views about how all this will translate in next year’s elections. Equal numbers – 43 percent – said they would vote for a Republican or a Democratic candidate. Independents preferred Republicans, 41 percent to 34 percent, while moderates favored Democrats, 49 percent to 35 percent.
This survey of 1,173 adults was conducted Dec. 3-5. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this landline sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cellphone numbers from Survey Sampling International. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2010 census results for age, gender, income, race and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. There are 988 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.