WASHINGTON — Public confidence in President Obama's leadership has declined sharply over the summer, amid intensifying opposition to a healthcare overhaul that threatens to undercut his attempt to change the system, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Among all Americans surveyed, 49% express confidence that Obama will make the right decisions for the country, down from 60% at the 100-day mark in his presidency. Forty-nine percent say they think he will be able to spearhead significant improvements, down nearly 20 percentage points from before he took office.
As challenges to Obama's initiatives have mounted over the summer, pessimism in the nation's direction has risen: Fifty-five percent see things as pretty seriously on the wrong track, up from 48% in April.
But there has been a notable increase in optimism about the length of the recession: Half of those polled expect it to end within the next 12 months, up from 28% in February.
Obama's economic stimulus plan has come under attack from Republicans, who say it has failed to bring tangible benefits. But in the poll, almost twice as many say the program has made things better compared with those who say it has made things worse (43% to 23%), with a third saying the plan has had no effect.
The president's overall approval rating stands at 57%, 12 points lower than its April peak, as disapproval has ticked up to 40%, its highest yet. On specific issues, Obama received more mixed marks. A majority, 53%, disapprove of his handling of the federal budget deficit, and his ratings on healthcare continue to deteriorate. On the economy, 52% approve of his actions, unchanged from June.
Despite the decline in confidence in Obama, there is little competition in the battle for public trust: Just 21% say congressional Republicans will make the right decisions for the country's future, and 35% have confidence in Democrats.
Disapproval of Obama's handling of the healthcare issue reached 50% in the poll, the highest of his presidency, and 42% say they "strongly disapprove" of the way he is dealing with his main domestic priority. Views of the president's actions on the issue have dropped most sharply among seniors and independents.
The poll was completed just as a new debate about a public health insurance option erupted after administration officials appeared to signal their willingness to jettison the proposal. White House officials later insisted that there had been no change in their position.
In the survey, 52% said they favor the government's creation of a new health insurance plan to compete with private insurers, and 46% are opposed. That is a big shift from late June, when 62% backed the notion and 33% opposed it.
The drop in support for the public option has been particularly steep among political independents, the group so crucial to the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and Obama's victory last year. Two months ago, independents supported the public option by a 2-1 ratio. Now, 50% are in favor and 47% are opposed.
Seniors have also become decidedly negative toward the proposal: In June, seniors were evenly split on the plan, but now a majority strongly oppose the idea.
The momentum for any change appears to have slackened as the debate has intensified, with 51% now behind the notion that government action is needed to control costs and expand coverage and 46% seeing such measures as doing more harm than good. Two months ago, proponents outnumbered opponents by a wide margin.
The poll was conducted Aug. 13 to 17 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults on conventional and cellular telephones. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Balz and Cohen write for the Washington Post. Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.