WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama earned his lowest marks ever on his handling of the economy in a new Associated Press-GfK poll, which also found that an overwhelming majority of Americans now describe the nation's financial outlook as poor.
A frustrated electorate could take it out on the party in power — Obama's Democrats — in the November elections.
Eleven weeks before the Nov. 2 balloting, just 41 percent of those surveyed approve of the president's performance on the economy, down from 44 percent in April, while 56 percent disapprove. And 61 percent say the economy has gotten worse or stayed the same on Obama's watch.
Still, three-quarters also say it's unrealistic to expect noticeable economic improvements in the first 18 months of the president's term. And Obama's overall approval rating was unaffected; it remained at 49 percent, in part because most Americans still like him personally.
Americans' dim view of the economy grew even more pessimistic this summer as the nation's unemployment rate stubbornly hovered near 10 percent. That's been a drag on both Obama and Democrats, who control Congress.
"The economy is on life support," says Scott Bradley, 38, general manager of a carpet store in Columbia, Mo. Bradley says he voted for Obama in 2008 but he wouldn't again. He blames Congress for the unemployment woes but says, "Obama's policies are making the economy worse."
Even staunch Obama backers like college student Julius Taylor of Flint, Mich., struggle to stay optimistic about the economy, particularly when they see the recession's toll in their backyard. "I'd like to say it's improving, but there are a lot of indicators it's not," says Taylor, 25.
Viewpoints like those have Democrats on edge as they try to hang onto comfortable majorities in the House and Senate in a political environment made ever more challenging by economic woes.
Republicans are trying to convince Americans that the GOP can create the jobs that Obama hasn't delivered. Obama and his Democrats are pleading for the frustrated public to give them more time to prove that their economic fixes will work.
"The truth is, it's going to take a few years to fully dig ourselves out of this recession. It's going to take time to bring back 8 million jobs," the president said Tuesday while campaigning for Democratic candidates in Seattle. "Anybody who tells you otherwise is just looking for your vote."
Democrats are keenly aware that they face strong headwinds; 60 percent of people say the country's headed in the wrong direction. And it's hard to overstate the importance of the economy to voters; 91 percent of Americans say it's a top problem, with unemployment close behind.
A whopping 81 percent of people now call the economy poor or very poor, up from 72 percent in June, and just 12 percent say it has improved in the past month, compared with 19 percent in June. Both are record measurements since AP-GfK started asking those questions.
"Everyone is scared — everyone," says Gerda Chapman, 63, a retired schoolteacher in Harrison, Idaho, who backed Obama and isn't ready to ditch him. "The man has not had a long enough time and he's doing a good job." She, like him, urges patience: "We're not out of the recession and we've got a ways to go. It's going to take time, but it is on an upward trend."
Stacey Pederson, 36, a massage therapist and independent voter in Asheville, N.C., agrees that it's improving. But, she says, more progress would be made "if we would have cooperation within the two parties. It's getting to be really difficult watching them fight."
Neither party is faultless, adds Jeff Vick, 49, a self-employed consultant from Fort Worth, Texas.
"Republicans have just been incredibly greedy," he says, and Democrats are instituting "un-American" policies that inhibit citizens' abilities to earn a living.
People have little trust in Democrats or Republicans on handling the economy; less than half trust either. But voters older than 64 and whites lean heavily toward the GOP.
While Congress' overall performance rating is at a miserable 24 percent, Democrats in Congress are slightly more popular than Republicans; 37 percent approve of Democrats while 30 percent approve of Republicans in Congress.
But in a shift from earlier this summer, when Democrats had an advantage, Republicans now are about even with Democrats on the question of which party should win control of Congress. Among registered voters, 49 percent say they would vote for the Republican candidate in their congressional district — half say to express their opposition to Obama — while 45 percent say they'd cast their ballot for the Democrat.
Obama is suffering in other areas, too.
Just 34 percent now call him an above average or outstanding president, down from 42 percent in January. And 28 percent call him average, while 38 percent say he's even worse. Marks on how people view him personally have fallen: 89 percent liked him personally in January, but now 82 percent do.
Also, more people disapprove of his performance on the following issues than approve: the federal budget deficit, unemployment, health care, taxes and immigration. Conversely, he's viewed more favorably than not on his handling of terrorism, the environment, relationships with other countries and education. About equal percentages of people view him positively and negatively on Iraq, Afghanistan, energy and gas prices.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Aug. 11-16 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.