Polls have shown for weeks that voters are upset with Washington, and not just in a normal partisan bickering way. Congressional approval ratings are at historic lows after the almost-default and President Obama, who had maintained an approval rating around 50 percent throughout his presidency despite some major legislative battles, has seen his rating hit a low of 38 percent just a few days ago.
But a new Pew poll out on Wednesday provided a more in-depth look at Americans’ frustrations: namely, very high unfavorability ratings for the Republican Party, and lower ratings on President Obama’s ability to lead.
The poll shows problems for the GOP in two ways. First, the GOP has seen a more severe fall in its rating after the debt fight, as its approval now sits at 34 percent against 59 percent disapproval, a large shift from the closer split that Republicans had the first month they controlled the House: 43 - 48 in February. The Democratic Party had a slim positive rating in February of 47 - 46, but has also slipped in all the Washington brinkmanship, to 43 - 50.
Secondly, the approval of GOP leaders by Americans has slipped to 22 percent, with 69 percent disapproval. “Ratings for GOP leaders have fallen sharply among the Republican base - and the change has been particularly dramatic among Republicans and Republican leaning-independents who agree with the Tea Party,” the Pew report reads. “Among all Republicans, 46% now approve of the job performance of Republican leaders, down 23 points from January.”
Then, there are the consequences. The new data shows that Americans would vote for a Democratic candidate over a GOP rival for Congress at a 48 - 44 split, meaning almost a majority. That’s the lowest number of undecided voters since April of 2006, before the Democrats took over Congress that fall.
Pew shows that the President’s approval is down to 43 percent against 49 percent disapproval, a drop from the 49 - 42 split from a Pew poll in February. The President’s lower approval rating is not news: other polls have shown it dropping. But some of the more specific findings show a public that is becoming less confident in his leadership qualities. In May, Pew found that 55 percent of Americans thought that Obama is “able to get things done.” But in the current poll that number has dropped to to 44 percent, and his “strong leader” perception has dropped from 58 percent in May to 49 now. Put together, the GOP unfavorables and Obama leadership numbers suggest that the down-to-the-wire debt debate has exposed both a feeling on Americans’ part that the extreme partisanship is unseemly, and a frustration about the functionality of government in an era of said partisanship.
On the Democratic side, the poll exposes some frustrations with party leaders, with 61 percent of Dem voters saying their party is “doing only a fair or poor job of standing up for its traditional positions.” From the report:
Democrats express fairly positive views of their party’s congressional leaders - 53% approve of their job performance. But Democrats are increasingly critical of the party’s advocacy of its traditional positions, such as protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy and representing working people.
Currently, just 38% of Democrats and Democratic leaders say the party is doing an excellent or good job of standing up for its traditional positions; 61% say the party has done only a fair or poor job. Last November, following the party’s dismal showing in the midterm elections, Democrats and Democratic leaders expressed more positive views of how well the party was standing up for its traditional positions (48% excellent or good/ 50% only fair or poor).
The Pew survey used live telephone interviews with 1,509 American adults conducted from August 17th through the 21st, and has a sampling error of 3.5 percent.
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Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.