Support for President Barack Obama and his health care law has marginally improved after the news that eight million Americans have enrolled in the law’s health-insurance exchanges, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Some highlights:
- Obama’s job approval rating now stands at 44%, a three-point increase from last month, though that movement falls within the poll’s margin of error.
- For the first time since early October – before the federal health care website’s disastrous launch became a months-long national story – the president’s personal favorable/unfavorable is right-side up, at 44% positive and 41% negative.
- And 36% see the health care law as a good idea, versus 46% who view it as a bad idea – an uptick from 35% and 49% respectively back in March.
Despite these slight improvements, the numbers still represent difficult terrain for Obama and the Democratic Party with six months to go until November’s midterm elections.
Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart, says the results highlight the difference between “better” and “good” for Democrats.
“These are very, very difficult numbers,” McInturff explains.
Hart borrows a baseball analogy to make a similar point: “It’s like the difference between from being five runs down, to one or two.”
Obama’s small rebound vs. Bush’s continued slide
According to the poll, 44% of adults approve of Obama’s job as president, while 50% disapprove. That’s up from March, when 41% approved and 54% disapproved.
The president’s slight improvement comes from Democratic respondents (who went from 74% approval to 77%), Republicans (7% to 12%) and women (44% to 49% ).
The improvement also represents a departure from George W. Bush’s declining approval numbers at this same point in his presidency.
In March 2006, Bush’s job approval rating stood at 37%, and it sank to 36% the next month.
“The narrative that Barack Obama, like George W. Bush, is headed for an inexorable slide downward … this poll says that – for now – this verdict is incorrect,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research.
Bracing for a tough midterm season
But like Bush in 2006, Obama and his party are bracing for a tough midterm season.
The NBC/WSJ poll finds 45% of voters preferring a Republican-controlled Congress, and an equal 45% preferring a Democratic-controlled one.
Yet among the voters with the highest interest in the upcoming midterms, the GOP holds a 15-point advantage, 53% to 38%, on congressional preference.
In addition to the president’s approval rating being below 50% – dangerous territory for the party controlling the White House – just 27% believe the country is headed in the right direction.
Only 26% think the economy will improve within the next year, which is unchanged from March’s NBC/WSJ poll.
And a majority of Americans agree with the statement that the current economic and political system is stacked against them.
Still, a plurality of respondents – 47% – say that Obama has inherited the current economic conditions rather than being responsible for them.
Although that’s down from Dec. 2010 (65%) and Aug. 2011 (56%), the Democratic pollster Hart argues that the finding is striking given that Obama is in the sixth year of his presidency.
“The public is giving him at least some of a pass on that,” Hart says.
Health care law remains unpopular
When it comes to the health care law, 36% say it’s a good idea versus 46% who believe it’s a bad idea – a slight improvement from last month, when it was 35% to 49%.
A plurality – 40% – believes the law needs minor modifications to improve it, 28% say it needs a major overhaul, 21% want it “totally eliminated” and 8% say it’s working well the way it is.
What’s more, just 13% believe the law is having a positive impact on their families, 28% say it’s having a negative impact and 58% say it hasn’t had much of an impact.
And 40% of voters said Republicans should eliminate the health care law if they have control of both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, while 38% said that Democrats should keep it if they control both chambers.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted April 23-27 of 1,000 adults (including 300 cell phone-only respondents), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.