WASHINGTON -- Forget the post-Election Day tradition of a more upbeat America in the weeks after voters go to the polls and make clear what they want from their leaders. A new McClatchy-Marist poll finds that people are gloomy about the economy and Washington’s ability to make it better anytime soon.
And they’re not optimistic about the prospects for meaningful compromise between the White House and congressional Republicans during President Barack Obama’s second term.
Sixty-two percent of voters nationwide think the already-strained relations between the White House and congressional Republicans won’t improve. The two sides face years of contentious issues, starting with next year’s budget and tax battles and very likely including an overhaul of the immigration system.
The downbeat mood has persisted for some time, as people watch Congress and the White House struggle to find common ground even on once-routine government business. The Dec. 4-6 McClatchy-Marist survey showed that attitudes about Obama, Congress and the state of the economy haven’t shifted since the Nov. 6 election.
“The election came and went and not too much has changed,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the national survey.
Obama isn’t even getting a small bump in polls after he decisively beat Republican Mitt Romney last month. His job-approval rating among registered voters was 50 percent, roughly the same as his popular-vote showing.
Republicans in Congress fared worse, even though the party retained a sizable majority in the House of Representatives. Congressional Republicans registered approval with about one in four people, down slightly from March.
Congressional Democrats, who control the Senate, don’t fare much better, with about one in three voters voicing approval.
Overall, registered voters thought the nation continues to head in the wrong direction: Fifty-six percent expressed concern, while 39 percent saw matters heading in the right direction. Fifty-three percent said the worst was yet to come, while 42 percent agreed the worst “is behind us.”
Voters see little help coming anytime soon. Forty-one percent expect that they’ll be about the same economically in the coming year, while 25 percent think they’ll be better off and 34 percent think things will get worse.
Experts warn that failure to avoid the “fiscal cliff” – the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts coupled with automatic federal-spending reductions due in January – could send the fragile economy into another recession. Even if negotiators find alternatives this month, no thaw in the public’s mood is anticipated and the public is as polarized as it’s ever been.
While Democrats overwhelmingly approve of the job Obama is doing, and Republicans strongly disapprove, independents are split, the poll found.
It suggests that the president has the most at stake politically in the years ahead, despite the low Republican numbers.
Miringoff called it astounding that for the past four years, George W. Bush got much of the blame for the sluggish economy, even though the recession formally ended six months after Obama took office.
“In the second term,” Miringoff said, “it becomes harder for Obama to make that case. People think he’s in the driver’s seat now.”
The poll makes that clear. Nearly two-thirds said Obama would have more influence over the nation’s direction in the next two years, while about one in four think congressional Republicans will wield more clout.
Obama, though, starts with a stronger base. More than seven in 10 Democrats think the second term will be better, and about the same number think the party is “about right,” neither too liberal nor too conservative.
Six in 10 Republicans see their party’s philosophy as about right, but one in five think the party is too liberal.