Poll Finds Edge for Obama Over G.O.P. Among the Public
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and MEGAN THEE-BRENAN
The New York Times -- February 11, 2010:
WASHINGTON — At a time of deepening political disaffection and intensified distress about the economy, President Obama enjoys an edge over Republicans in the battle for public support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
While the president is showing signs of vulnerability on his handling of the economy — a majority of respondents say he has yet to offer a clear plan for creating jobs — Americans blame former President George W. Bush, Wall Street and Congress much more than they do Mr. Obama for the nation’s economic problems and the budget deficit, the poll found.
They credit Mr. Obama more than Republicans with making an effort at bipartisanship, and they back the White House’s policies on a variety of disputed issues, including allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military and repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
The poll suggests that both parties face a toxic environment as they prepare for the elections in November. Public disapproval of Congress is at a historic high, and huge numbers of Americans think Congress is beholden to special interests. Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans say members of Congress deserve re-election.
As the party in power, Democrats face a particular risk from any wave of voter discontent; unfavorable views of the Democratic Party are as high as they have been since the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, though Republicans continue to register an even worse showing. The percentage of Americans who approve of Mr. Obama’s job performance, 46 percent, is as low as it has been since he took office.
Still, the poll suggests that Mr. Obama and his party have an opportunity to deflect the anger and anxiety if they can frame the election not as a referendum on the president and his party, but as a choice between them and a Republican approach that yielded results under Mr. Bush that much of the nation still blames for the country’s woes. That is what the White House has been trying to do since the beginning of the year.
For all the erosion in support for Mr. Obama, Americans say he better understands their needs and problems and has made more of an effort to be bipartisan than Congressional Republicans, the poll found.
“It feels like an attempt to sabotage the majority and to regain control of power rather than working on a compromise,” John Smith, a Republican from Greenville, S.C., said of his party after participating in the poll.
Americans say that Mr. Obama is far less likely to favor special interests over the American people than Congress. Mr. Obama and his party continue to have an edge over Republicans on which party would do better in dealing with health care and job creation. But Republicans have gained an edge on handling of the economy.
The public has lost much of its enthusiasm for a health care overhaul, and how Mr. Obama has managed it. He gets low marks for his handling of the deficit and the economy. And the fact that 56 percent of respondents of think that Mr. Obama does not have a plan to create jobs is a distressing bit of news for a White House that in recent weeks had made an intensive effort to present Mr. Obama as concerned with the economy.
But the public backs other elements of Mr. Obama’s agenda. By a two-to-one ratio, Americans support an end to tax cuts for the wealthy, and Americans favor allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
The Tea Party movement, which has grown out of the strain of discontent, so far commands relatively little public support; 18 percent of respondents said they considered themselves supporters of the movement, while 55 percent said they had heard little or nothing about it.
The level of dissatisfaction with both political parties — and the fact that 56 percent of Americans in the poll want a smaller government — suggests that the Tea Party movement has an opportunity to draw more support. The poll found that 51 percent of Americans now view the Democratic Party unfavorably, nearly matching the highest in the history of the Times/CBS News poll. At the same time, 57 percent have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party.
The nationwide telephone poll of 1,084 adults was taken from Feb. 5 through 10 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for all adults.
The poll found substantial pessimism: 62 percent of respondents said the country was heading in the wrong direction. And 70 percent of those polled said they thought it was going to take two years or longer for the effects of the recession that technically ended last year to fade away.
Three-quarters of the public disapproves of Congress, matching the highest level measured by the New York Times/CBS News Poll since it began asking the question in 1977. Four out of five voters thought Congress was more interested in serving special interests than voters.
“I think Congress and the Senate need to be completely revamped,” said Michael Wish, 30, a Democrat from Medina, Ohio. He added, “The old way of doing things is no longer working.”
Americans appear hungry for an end to partisan infighting in Washington, so much so that half of respondents said the Senate should change the filibuster rules that Republicans have used to block Mr. Obama’s agenda. Almost 60 percent said both Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans should compromise in the interest of consensus.
But Mr. Obama is seen as making more of an effort to do that: 62 percent said Mr. Obama was trying to work with Congressional Republicans, while the same percentage said that Republicans were not trying to work with Mr. Obama.
“Obama is certainly trying,” said Bonnie Ewasiuk, 60, of Woodbridge, Va. “I’m a Republican so I don’t like to go against the party, but Obama has reached out and had meetings and I don’t think the Republicans are going to be responsive. All you see from them is negativity.”
More than half of respondents said that Mr. Obama had not spent enough time trying to fix the economy, and nearly half said he had spent too much time trying to pass a health care bill.
He scored better on other measures, particularly in comparison with Republicans; 60 percent said the president understood their problems, compared with 42 percent who said the same thing about Congressional Democrats and 35 percent for Congressional Republicans.