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Poll: Obama and Congress in unpopular waters

“This is a bad poll for President Obama, and not a good poll for anybody else,” says Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
U.S. President Barack Obama walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, on June 17, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, on June 17, 2014.

The percentage of Americans approving of President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign-policy issues has dropped to the lowest level of his presidency as he faces multiple overseas challenges, including in Iraq, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Additionally, the public is evenly split on whether Obama is a competent manager of the federal bureaucracy. And a majority of respondents – 54% – believe the term-limited president is no longer able to lead the country and get the job done.

“This is a bad poll for President Obama, and not a good poll for anybody else,” says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democrats Peter Hart and Fred Yang.

“Whether it’s [Vladimir] Putin, Ukraine, the VA hospitals, Bowe Bergdahl, the events have controlled Obama, rather than Obama having controlled the events,” Hart adds. “He may be winning the issues debate, but he’s losing the political debate, because they don’t see him as a leader.”

The midterm matchup

These numbers put the Democratic Party at a clear disadvantage heading into November’s midterm elections, when a president’s job rating can often be predictive of the general outcome.

But, the pollsters say, Republicans also have perception problems that could limit their potential gains.

“We know more about the challenges facing President Obama in the next two years of his term than how this year’s congressional elections will play out in the next six months,” Fred Yang, the Democratic pollster.

According to the survey, 45% of registered voters prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 43% who want a GOP-held one.

Thirty-four percent say their vote will be a signal of opposition to Obama, and 24% say it will be a signal of support; 41 percent say it won’t signal anything about the president.

Yet while Obama is unpopular in the poll, he looks like the homecoming king compared with the Republican Party.

Just 29% of respondents have a favorable view of the GOP, versus 45% who have an unfavorable view. (By comparison, the Democratic Party’s fav/unfav rating is 38% positive, 40% negative.)

Views of the tea party are even worse, with 22% seeing it in a favorable light and 41% in a negative one.

And one week after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his congressional primary to a tea party challenger, the NBC/WSJ poll finds a divided Republican Party.

A majority of Republicans who are tea party supporters (56%) say the tea party has too little influence inside the party, while a plurality of of Republicans who aren’t supporters (41%) say it has too much influence.

Dissatisfaction with everyone in Washington

Indeed, if there is one pervasive theme from the poll, it’s dissatisfaction – with everyone in Washington.

Only 32% of voters say their member of Congress deserves to be re-elected, compared with 57 percent who want to give a new person a chance.

And just 25% of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction.

This is the ninth-straight NBC/WSJ poll over the past year when 30% of the nation or less has had a positive attitude about the nation’s direction.

More oppose Bergdahl prisoner swap than support it

The poll was crafted before the instability in Iraq grabbed headlines, so it doesn’t contain questions on that subject. It also was conducted before the United States arrested a suspect in the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

But it shows an American public that has grown dissatisfied with President Obama on foreign policy and national-security decisions.

Just 37% approve of his handling of foreign policy, which is an all-time low in the survey, while 57% disapprove, an all-time high.

What’s more, by a 44%-to-30% margin, Americans disagree with the Obama administration’s decision to secure the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five imprisoned Taliban fighters.

And respondents are evenly divided if the details of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his base in Afghanistan matters in the U.S. decision to secure his release: 47% say the details matter, while 46% say they don’t.

President Obama’s overall approval rating in the poll is at 41%, down three points from April. That’s tied for his all-time low in the survey.

And his favorable-unfavorable rating is upside down (41%-45%) after being right-side up two months ago (44%-41%).

Perhaps most troubling for the president, 54% think he is unable to lead the country and get the job done, compared with 42% who believe he can.

Other findings

After the Obama administration announced new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, 57% say they approve of a proposal that would require companies to reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming, even if it leads to higher energy costs for consumers.

  • A combined 61% believe that global climate change requires either “immediate action” to combat it or “some action.” By contrast, 37% say that the country doesn’t know enough about global climate change, or that concern about it is unwarranted.
  • Six-in-10 say the problems associated with Veterans Affairs hospitals are due to longstanding bureaucratic issues; just 14% say they’re due to poor management by the Obama administration.
  • Fifty-nine percent oppose closing the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects – up seven points since 2009.
  • And only 27% say the Afghanistan war was worth it – down 13 points from a year ago.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted June 11-15 of 1,000 adults (including 337 reached by cell phone), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.