President Obama waves from the stage after speaking at a Labor Day event… (Jason Reed / Reuters )
A speech to a joint session of Congress is one of the prized "leadership moments" that only the president is afforded in American politics. And on Thursday, it's one Barack Obama is availing himself of at a critical juncture -- and with good reason, a new poll finds.
Resurgent Republic, a conservative nonprofit group, released results of a national survey that found 6 in 10 Americans believe Obama to be a weaker president than they expected him to be, while fewer than a third say he's been stronger than expected.
Of deeper concern is the breakdown among self-identified independent voters in the survey. Sixty-five percent say Obama has turned out to be weaker than expected, including 36% who said "much weaker," while just 24% said he's been stronger than expected.
"It's not just the bad economy that is weighing on the president's numbers. The doubts go to the heart of his leadership," pollster Whit Ayres told reporters on a conference call Wednesday to discuss the findings. "He promised to be a strong and unifying president, and increasingly voters doubt that he has been that or can be that."
Obama is using his Thursday speech to roll out his proposals to boost a flatlining economy. Initial reports indicate that legislative package will be relatively modest in scope -- renewing an existing payroll tax cut and new spending on school renovation and job training.
"Thursday night, the president will propose new meaningful initiatives to create jobs and grow the economy and it will be fully paid for," White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said in a Wednesday tweet.
Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee and like Ayres a Resurgent Republic board member, said Obama will no doubt get a needed bump in the polls from his speech. But the White House runs the risk if it fails to meet expectations that the speech only serves to "reinforce the notion that he's a weak leader."
"It's hard for me to think how the stakes could be much higher, and I have to say, I wonder why they made them so high," Gillespie said.
"He has got to come out with something new and something different, and something other than blaming Republicans, for this thing to work for him," Ayres added.
Some of the survey's other data mirrors the findings of a host of other national surveys released this week. If the presidential election were held today, Obama would be tied with a generic Republican 43% to 43%. Only 42% of respondents think Obama deserves reelection, while 52% say it is time for someone else.
The national survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted from Aug. 28 to 31, and has a margin of error of 3.1%.