Rising frustration over partisan gridlock in Washington has damaged faith both in President Barack Obama and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, with disapproval of Congress hitting an all-time high, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found.
A new WSJ/NBC poll has found approval levels in Congress still at record lows, a negative outlook on whether an immigration deal will get done and how Americans are feeling after the conclusion of the Trayvon Martin case.
The public sourness comes just as Congress and the White House on Tuesday gave new indications they are headed this fall for the kind of clash over federal spending that has in the past driven up public disapproval. In the latest poll, Mr. Obama's job-approval rating fell to 45%, its lowest level since late 2011, while overall disapproval of Congress was at 83%, the highest level ever for Journal polling.
Just 29% of Americans now say the country is on the right track, a 19-month low and well below the 41% who felt that way at the end of last year, the poll found.
The poll findings come despite an uptick in other barometers of American well-being, including a surging stock market and continued signs of strengthening on the employment front. Mr. Obama on Wednesday will give the first of several speeches aimed at building support for his plans for job creation and the economy, which has included new federal spending on infrastructure, early-childhood education and other programs—proposals with little support among Republicans.
The president made a similar pivot when his approval ratings dropped in 2011, casting himself as fighting for the middle class against powerful interests, after a prolonged fight with Congress over the nation's borrowing limit.
Mr. Obama's 45% approval rating matches that of George W. Bush at this stage in his second term, while Bill Clinton's approval at this stage in his term stood at 56%.
On Tuesday, there were fresh indications that a similar such fight could be coming this fall. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said spending cuts must accompany any measure to raise the borrowing limit, known as the debt ceiling, a step that Congress must take by October or November so that the Treasury Department can pay all of the nation's bills.
A Republican senator, Mike Lee of Utah, suggested this week that a set of his colleagues won't agree to spending bills unless Congress eliminates funding for Mr. Obama's new health law.
In the latest poll, Americans of all partisan stripes were also unusually disapproving of their own congressional representatives, with just 32% saying they deserved re-election, the second-weakest stamp of approval in nearly 20 years, and 57% of respondents saying they would defeat and replace every member of Congress if they could.
That said, incumbents usually have little trouble winning re-election. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report, for instance, lists just nine of the 435 House seats as "tossups" for next year.
Americans pointed to Republicans far more than to Mr. Obama as putting partisanship above efforts to unify the country. In all, 67% said Republicans emphasize a partisan approach at the expense of unity, compared with 48% who said that of Mr. Obama.
Offered a list of what makes them least happy about Washington, a plurality of Americans cited the capital's partisanship and the inability of Congress to get things done. Next up was the feeling that Washington was ignoring the needs of middle-class Americans.
The poll of 1,000 adults, conducted over five days last week, underscores a "strong, deep disconnect between the public and the government that purports to serve them," said Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster who conducted the survey along with Republican Bill McInturff.
The poll highlighted some challenges for Mr. Obama and the Democrats as they look toward next year's congressional elections.
For nearly two years, Americans have given Democrats a slight edge in terms of which party they would prefer to control Congress. But this poll found the preference evenly split, with 44% backing each party.
At the same time, the survey found a slight slump in support for the president among his most ardent backers, including African-Americans and core Democrats. Approval was off much more sharply among independents, just 32% of whom said they approved of the president's job performance. Mr. McInturff, the Republican pollster, called the dip in Mr. Obama's support among his strongest backers "a telling scratch" in his armor that could cost his party in next year's elections if it worsens.
"If ever there is an edge that falls off in the president's core support, that is always very meaningful in an off-year election," he said.
Americans continued to express overall unease about the federal health-care overhaul, with just 34% considering the law to be a good idea. But a slight majority of Americans, including 17% of Republicans, said Republicans in Congress should stop trying to prevent the law from going into effect. The GOP-controlled House has voted nearly 40 times to block the law since 2011.
Some of those who aren't big fans of the health law expressed a desire to let it be. "By now they should just leave it alone—it is what it is," said Shelle Wightman, a Republican and mother of three in Cameron, N.C., who voted for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. She added that Republican legislators would be more effective if they focused their attention elsewhere.
Another respondent, Gary Madison, a Democrat from Staten Island, N.Y., echoed the poll's overall frustration with Washington. Unwillingness to compromise has made Congress "totally dysfunctional," Mr. Madison said, citing immigration, the economy and women's rights as the issues most important to him.
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