Elections

Obama: Help or hindrance for ’16 Democrats?

President Barack Obama speaks at the Memorial Amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., during Veterans Day ceremonies.
President Barack Obama speaks at the Memorial Amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., during Veterans Day ceremonies. AP

Do Democratic presidential candidates defend or inch away from President Barack Obama’s record? There’s no easy answer.

A new McClatchy-Marist Poll found Americans are split, 48-48 percent, on whether they approve of the job Obama’s doing. And by a 60-35 percent margin, people see the nation as moving in the wrong direction.

Numbers such as those usually mean big trouble for the party in power.

“We’re seeing a continuation of Americans being unhappy with the way things are,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the survey.

Democratic presidential candidates have a big challenge. Obama remains overwhelmingly popular among Democrats, particularly key constituencies. Ninety-one percent of African-Americans and 62 percent of Latinos give Obama high marks.

Independents disapprove of the job Obama’s doing, 51% to 45%.

The general election, though, will be more difficult terrain. The poll suggests than an area where Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton could be strongest is one where any Democratic presidential nominee could have a particularly rough time defending Obama – his foreign policy.

Obama’s stewardship will be much on in display in coming days as he heads to Turkey this weekend to meet with world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the G-20 summit. The Syrian civil war is expected to be discussed. From Turkey, he goes on to Asia for a series of summits.

The president gets low ratings for his handling of foreign affairs and efforts to deal with threats posed by the Islamic State.

“He’s gotten us into some situations (such as) the Iran deal, giving them a pathway to a nuclear bomb is absolutely terrifying,” said Richard Krobusek, 73, a Plano, Texas, retiree.

Obama’s agreement with Iran over its nuclear program infuriated critics who insist Iran can’t be trusted.

Republicans have been adamant lately that Obama’s not doing enough to stop the Islamic State. The poll found 88 percent disapprove of his policies.

Democrats are more supportive, as 59 percent back Obama’s strategy. But Clinton last month said she backed imposing a no-fly zone in Syria, a view the White House has rejected.

The country is as polarized as it can get.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion

Americans are split over how to handle the Syria situation. Twenty-eight percent want a large number of ground forces, 37 percent want a limited number of troops and 29 percent want none.

To Obama critics, the president’s handling of the Syrian crisis is another example of a feckless foreign policy.

“In a world full of governments there are a number of bad actors. This guy empowers and emboldens the bad actors,” said James Milton, 49, a Dallas systems analyst.

The president fares better on race relations and economic issues, but here, too, there are warning signs for Democrats.

Forty-nine percent approve of how Obama is handling race relations. Forty-seven percent disapprove.

Asked about how the president deals with the economy, forty-seven percent approve. Half don’t.

84% of Democrats approve of how President Obama is handling the economy. 87% of Republicans disapprove.

“The quality of life is becoming better,” said Ra’Quayle Cooley, 21, of Deerfield Beach, Fla., a sales associate at Gap and a student at Palm Beach State College.

Many disagree. “He sold us down the river, he changed his programs, he has brought us closer to socialism and he’s violated the Constitution that he promised to uphold,” said Myra Crettol, 81, an Olympia, Wash., retiree.

Few expect their financial situation to improve anytime soon. Twenty-nine percent see their family finances getting better in the next year, while 17 percent say things will get worse. Fifty-four percent see their status about the same.

Briana Wells, 27, an Athens, Ga., retail sales associate, was pleased. “I thought Obamacare was great. I mean, I get insurance for 20 bucks a month, I don’t see the harm in that,” she said.

Tommy Cole, 57, a truck driver and pastor in Kershaw, S.C., disagreed. “We will find out the truth about health care next year when the premiums escalate,” he said.

Many blame Congress for the turmoil. Its approval ratings have been dismal for years. In the latest poll, 23 percent approve of the job Republicans are doing while 38 percent approve of Democrats’ performance. Republicans have controlled both chambers of Congress since January.

Vera Bergengruen, Lesley Clark, William Douglas, Iana Kozelsky, Anita Kumar, Ali Montag, Grace Toohey and Victoria Whitley contributed.

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid

Methodology

This survey of 1,465 adults was conducted Oct. 29-Nov. 4 by The Marist Poll, sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults residing in the continental United States were interviewed in English or Spanish by telephone using live interviewers. Land-line 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. Respondents in the household were then selected by first asking for the youngest male. To increase coverage, this land-line 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 2013 American Community Survey one-year estimates for age, gender, income, race and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. There are 1,080 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.

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