Oil spill drags down Obama as voters shift away from president’s policy positions, new poll shows

Jon Ward Contributor
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The two-month-old oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is taking a major toll on President Obama’s presidency, according to a new poll released Wednesday evening.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey of 1,000 adults also shows that Obama is suffering from a backlash against his policies, and that the nation remains generally conservative on issues of government spending and the size of government.

The number of Americans who think the country is on the wrong track is the highest of Obama’s presidency in this particular poll, at 62 percent. And disapproval of Obama’s job performance has also climbed to an all-time high in these polls, at 48 percent, while approval is at an all-time low, at 45 percent.

The number of people who are “not at all confident” that Obama has the right “goals and policies to be president of the United States” – 37 percent – has also spiked up significantly since January, when that number was 29 percent.

Attitudes about the future of the U.S. economy were also more pessimistic in the poll than of any during Obama’s time in office, with only 33 percent saying they think it will get better, down from 40 percent in May.

Americans’ faith in Obama’s ability to handle a crisis has slipped significantly since January. Specifically on the oil spill, 42 percent said they approved of Obama’s handling of the ongoing disaster, while 50 percent said they disapproved. However, more people blamed the Interior Department – headed by Secretary Ken Salazar – the Environmental Protection Agency, and oil giant BP for not doing enough about the problem than those who blamed Obama or Congress.

As for Congress, the survey showed Republicans with a major edge going into this fall’s midterm elections, but not without weak points of their own.

More are now in favor of a GOP-controlled Congress than those who favor Democratic control, by a 45 to 43 percent margin. However, only 31 percent said they themselves would vote for a Republican, while 34 percent said they would vote Democratic and 25 percent said they’d cast a ballot for an Independent.

Anti-incumbent sentiment is high: 57 percent said it is time to give someone new a chance, up from 49 percent in January.

Those who said they wanted Republicans to control Congress did so on the basis of a few key issues: 39 percent said they wanted Republicans to reduce government spending, 28 percent said it was to repeal Obama’s health care law, 17 percent said it was to keep taxes down, 15 percent said it was to protest Obama’s policies of Obama, 12 percent said it was to stop Democrats from “controlling Congress,” 10 percent said it was to “promote moral values,” and 9 percent said it was to “strengthen national defense.”

Of those who said they will vote in this fall’s midterm elections, 32 percent said they will cast their ballot with the intent to show opposition to Obama, while 27 percent said they would be showing support for Obama. This is a reversal from January of this year, when only 27 percent said they would be demonstrating opposition to the president and 37 percent said they would be demonstrating support.

On other issues of importance to Obama, he is also on the retreat. The country remains overwhelmingly concerned with reducing the federal budget deficit rather than spending money to stimulate the economy: 63 percent said they worry about keeping the deficit down even if that means it takes longer for the economy to recover while 34 percent said the government should try to do more to boost the economy even if that means larger deficits.

And since Obama has taken office, opinions about the role of government have shifted to the right. The number of people who believe government should do more to “solve problems and help meet the needs of people” has dropped from 51 percent to 47 percent. The number of people who believe government is doing “too many things better left to businesses and individuals” has spiked up from 40 percent in February 2009 to 49 percent in the most recent survey.

There were some minor bright spots for Obama in the poll. More Americans still blame former President George W. Bush for the economy’s troubles than blame him, by 28 to 20 percent. And while Obama’s health law remains unpopular, the president has managed to reduce the number of people who oppose it, down to 44 percent from 48 percent in March.

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