07/26/2011 02:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Obama Polls: Economy Drags Down The President And Congress

As Washington has debated what to do about the debt ceiling, Americans have increasingly soured on the leaders of both parties. Two new national surveys out today show the job approval ratings of President Barack Obama and both the Democratic and Republican leaderships falling, as Americans express increasing anxiety about the economy and dissatisfaction with the direction of the nation.

The latest survey from the Pew Research Center shows President Barack Obama's job approval rating falling steadily from a high of 56 percent in early May to 44 percent in the most recent survey. Although a new ABC News/Washington Post survey shows Obama's approval rating steady at 47 percent over the same time period, the Pew Research Center trend matches a drop in Obama’s approval measured by most other national public opinion polls.


The trend line of the HuffPost Pollster chart above summarizes the data from all national media polls. A close up look at trends over the last two months by organizations that released new numbers in the last few weeks shows a consistent drop in all but the ABC/Washington Post poll of at least 4 or 5 percentage points since early May.


The ratings of both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have also dropped, and the president’s numbers still outshine those of the Congressional leadership. According to the Pew poll, for example, the approval ratings of the Republican leaders in Congress has fallen from 36 to 25 percent since March (disapproval is 66 percent). Meanwhile, approval of the Democrats in Congress has fallen only slightly, from 33 percent to 30 percent since March (disapproval of the Democratic leaders is now 60 percent).

One culprit for the lower approval ratings is likely the increasing sense of economic pessimism and a dissatisfaction with country.

  • According to the new ABC/Post poll, 90 percent of Americans think the state of the economy is either "not so good" or "poor," while only 10 percent rate is as "excellent" or "good."
  • The Pew poll found that only 17 percent of Americans are satisfied with the direction of the country, down from 23 percent a month ago.
  • A new Gallup release finds the percentage of Americans saying economic conditions are getting worse in their daily tracking has risen from 62 percent to 73 percent since the beginning of July, while the percentage saying that current economic conditions are "poor" has risen from 43 percent to 51 percent."

The Pew poll also finds that confidence in the government as a whole is incredibly low. Only 6 percent of respondents said they had "a lot" of confidence in the government making progress on important issues facing the country over the next year, while 59 percent said they had "not much" or "no" confidence. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they did not think we will have made significant progress in reducing the federal budget deficit five years from now (39 percent thought we would).

Although the overall results of recent polls have been negative for the president as well as Congress, many of the same surveys show that President Obama may hold the high ground when it comes to the debt ceiling issue:

  • Almost every poll finds Americans react more favorably to a deal featuring a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts than a deal featuring just spending cuts.
  • Americans express more confidence and trust in President Obama's handling of the issue than of either the Republican or Democratic leadership in Congress.
  • Most polls show strong support for some sort of compromise, as reaffirmed by the new Pew Research survey, which shows that 68 percent prefer that their leaders "compromise" on the debt ceiling, "even it mean they strike a deal you disagree with." Only 23 percent want their leaders to "stick by their principles, even if it means the government goes into default."

However, the movement in the overall approval numbers suggests that Americans are far more concerned about the larger story, which is ongoing paralysis and dysfunction in Washington in the face of ongoing economic pain.

Further, although Obama may have an advantage on the debt ceiling messaging, that advantage could be an fleeting one for him if the near non-stop coverage of the debt ceiling debate simply puts greater emphasis on the the failure of leaders in Washington to come to grips with the problem.

Americans are hearing more about the debt ceiling debate. The Pew Research poll found that 50 percent of Americans say they have heard "a lot " about the possibility that the government could default if the debt limit is not raised, and Pew's weekly news interest survey found last week that the percentage of Americans following the debate "very closely" increased 9 percent from the week before. However, that brighter spotlight focuses attention on two larger issues for which President Obama receives his lowest ratings on the ABC/Washington Post poll, the federal budget deficit (38 percent approval) and the economy (39 percent).

The debt ceiling debate may also be a distraction from the economic issues Americans care most about. According to the new Pew poll, when asked which national economic issue worried them the most, 39 percent of respondents said their top concern was the job situation, while only 29 percent said they were most worried about the budget deficit. A further 15 percent said they were most concerned about rising prices and 11 percent about problems in the financial and housing markets.

The new Pew poll was conducted July 20-24 among 1,502 adults, and has a margin of error or 3.5 percentage points. The ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted July 14-17 among 1,001 adults, with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.