Stung by Americans’ persistent worries about the economy and a capital gripped by controversy and gridlock, President Barack Obama is suffering his lowest job approval numbers in nearly two years, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
The plummeting numbers – still higher than those of Congress – come after weeks of rising gasoline prices, revelations about domestic spying and turmoil in the Middle East.
The disappointing results come as the White House this week looks to turn the national conversation back to the economy. Obama will deliver the first of a series of speeches Wednesday aimed at offering his vision for boosting economic growth, even as the new poll found that just 37 percent of the respondents approved of his handling of the economy, while 56 percent disapproved.
Overall, the poll found Obama’s job approval at 41 percent last week, a sharp drop from April’s 50 percent and his worst showing in the poll since 39 percent in September 2011. Forty-eight percent disapproved in the latest poll, up from April’s 46 percent.
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Obama won re-election in November with 51 percent of the popular vote.
“Clearly six months into his second term there’s been falloff across the board. It’s not like one group bailed on him,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll.
About his only solace is that the approval rating of congressional Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, sank to 22 percent. One-third of registered voters approved of congressional Democrats’ performance.
The dismal Washington numbers reflect “the ongoing, cumulative effect of those issues which have not been resolved” and no solution is in sight, Miringoff said. Lawmakers remain at odds over how to trim federal deficits or write a federal budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, and Congress plans to leave Aug. 2 for a five-week recess.
Adding to the feeling of political inertia has been the distractions of other issues.
“When (Obama) gets away from talking about the economy, numbers have a tendency to slide,” Miringoff said.
The president has been weathering a succession of spring and summer political storms. In May, news broke that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted for special scrutiny tea party groups seeking tax exemptions. In June, the administration was rocked by revelations about secret government programs that collect data from U.S. phone records and the Internet.
Foreign policy is also taking a political toll. This month, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was ousted, and Syria remained a bloody battleground. By a 48-41 percent margin, people disapproved of how the president is handling foreign policy. In April, approvals slightly outnumbered disapprovals.
What constituents want is comity and compromise. Nearly two-thirds said it’s more important for government officials to find common ground, while slightly more than a quarter said it’s more crucial to stand on principle even if it means gridlock.
And though the nation has technically been in an economic recovery for four years, most Americans aren’t feeling it. Fifty-four percent said they thought the U.S. remains in a recession, and 60 percent saw the country going in the wrong direction.
Twenty-nine percent said they expected their personal family finances to get better in the coming year, while 19 percent thought they’d worsen. Just over half saw their fortunes staying about the same.
While the numbers reflect some improvement, they continue to reflect uneasiness.
“In their day-to-day lives, people are struggling to make ends meet,” Miringoff said.
One sign: GasBuddy.com reported the average price of a gallon of gasoline Monday was $3.67.7 a gallon, up 18 cents from a year ago and nine cents from a month ago.
Obama is aiming to regain the economic initiative again this week. Wednesday, he plans to speak at Knox College in Illinois, site of his 2005 speech that detailed his economic philosophy. This time he plans to discuss how the economy does best when the middle class prospers and offer his vision for making that happen.
“Economic growth has been steady, but it has not been strong enough, as far as the president is concerned,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday.
Obama, however, remains somewhat popular personally – the poll showed a nearly even split as to whether people had a favorable or unfavorable impression of him – but the favorable number, 47 percent, was down from April’s 53 percent.
Lesley Clark of the Washington Bureau contributed to this story.