2008 record      


Unemployment at 10%, new terror concerns and political capital spent on a health care bill that a majority of Americans don't want.

Any one would be enough to chip away at a president's approval. Barack Obama has seen all three. That's souring Americans, especially swing voters.

The IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership Index came in at 50.8 in January. Readings above 50 signal approval.

That's actually slightly better than most surveys. RealClearPolitics.com's poll average puts Obama's approval at 48.8%-45.8%.

The trend should worry Obama though. The IBD poll fell nearly two points from December's reading of 52.7 and more than 20 points from the 71 he enjoyed just after his inauguration.

Obama has seen declines in support across the board, with his approval among self-described independents falling the sharpest. The index put his January numbers among them at 44.3, down more than 3 points from December and almost 12 points from September.

"Right now the economy and jobs are the top issue, followed by national security and terrorism," said Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducted the poll.

While Obama remains very popular among self-described Democrats, fewer Americans are describing themselves that way, Mayur says. This is happening mostly in the Midwest and South among people worried about deficits and expanding government.

"There is a small faction of fiscally conservative Democrats who have moved out of the Democratic party and become independents," Mayur said.

Karlyn Bowman, polling expert for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, agreed that Democrat defections are key.

"There is a kind of cumulative sticker shock for the public, starting with TARP and including the stimulus package and auto bailouts," Bowman said. "The deficit usually doesn't have much intensity in the polls but it does now."

She said these ex-Democrats are not likely to return to the party fold quickly even if the economic recovery picks up.

"The public is a lagging indicator. It is slow to believe that an economic recovery is real," she said.

Most economists expect moderate GDP growth in 2010. But voters tend to focus on unemployment, which isn't expected to fall much from the current 10%.


The poll found 53% aren't satisfied with the country's current economic policies vs. 44% who are. Over half (56%) think the country is on the wrong track.

Respondents still approve of Obama's job performance, by a slim 45%-43% plurality, with 12% unsure. That's buoyed by 80% approval from Democrats. But just 36% of independents approve while 49% disapprove.

The failure of the Copenhagen climate talks, the rebuke from Iran and cold shoulder from Russia have also dimmed hopes that America could reassert itself as a world leader. By a 29%-22% margin people believe America's standing in the world has fallen, while 46% believe nothing has changed.

The health care debate has eroded the president's numbers. Only 11% overall rate his handling of the issue "excellent." Another 21% rate it "good." But 45% rate it "poor" or "unacceptable."

Among independents, just 7% rate Obama's handling of health care as excellent. Another 16% rate it "good." But 12% rate it "poor" and a whopping 37% say it's "unacceptable."

Independents have swung sharply away from Democrats after favoring the party in 2006 and 2008. If they turn out for Scott Brown in the Jan. 19 Massachusetts Senate special election, the GOP could pull off a seismic upset. That might give Republicans the power to block a final health care bill in Congress.

The attempted Christmas Day airline bombing and the Fort Hood shooting have also managed to revive terror as a potent political issue.

In January 2009, the very end of President Bush's administration, a combined 82% reported feeling "very" or "somewhat safe" from terrorism. Only 17% reported feeling any degree of insecurity.

At the time 49% attributed that to Bush's policies while 22% said they made us less safe and 24% said they made no difference.

Those feelings of security carried over to Obama, at least initially. In July last year, 73% reported feeling safe and 26% unsafe. By this month that had fallen to 68% feeling safe and 31% unsafe.

Pledges to close the Guantanamo prison and the administration's grudging admission that security failed prior to the bungled Christmas bombing have hurt confidence in that area. Today 30% say Obama's policies have made us less safe; 26% say they have made us safer.

There were some signs of optimism, though most were guarded. By a 23%-16% margin people expect their quality of life to improve over the next six months, though 59% see no improvement.

Similarly, by 32%-28% they expect economic conditions to improve over six months, though 38% see no change. People expect their own financial conditions to improve, 26%-19% but 55% see no change.

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