Americans are deeply divided on Barack Obama’s first year in the White House, and the president’s ratings on priority issues health care and the economy have hit new lows, polls showed Tuesday.
Polling also suggests independent voters are turning away from the president as he nears the anniversary of his inauguration on January 20 — though in a sign of hope for his administration, he remains more popular than his policies.
A CBS News poll showed Obama’s job approval rating at 46 percent, marking the first time he had polled below 50 percent in the survey.
A CNN/Opinion Research Organization poll meanwhile showed Obama’s approval rating at 51 percent — but that was down three points in a month.
The 50 percent job approval barrier is traditionally seen as a crucial one for presidents, affecting their political standing and ability to attract support for their policies in Congress.
When voters were asked in the CNN survey to rate Obama’s performance during a crisis-marred first year in the Oval Office, 48 percent said he had been a failure, and 47 percent judged him a success.
Those results suggested that one of Obama’s prime goals, bridging political divides in the United States, had failed during his first year in office — though the president’s Democrats accuse opposition Republicans of serial obstruction.
After a bitter year-long debate, Obama and Democrats in Congress are moving closer to passing a sweeping health care reform bill — but the polls show their efforts have extracted a painful political price.
Just 36 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of health care, down from 42 percent in December and 47 percent in October, CBS said.
In the CNN survey, 40 percent of those polled backed Obama’s handling of health care and 59 percent disapproved. In October, 42 percent approved, and as far back as last March, 57 percent of those polled endorsed his approach.
It was a similar story on the economy.
Forty-four percent of those asked by CNN approved of Obama’s stewardship of the economy, with unemployment at 10 percent and a credit squeeze still tight — a new low for that survey.
CBS News found 41 percent backed Obama’s economic management, another new low.
But the surveys found better news for Obama on national security, despite withering Republican attacks on his record following an Al-Qaeda attempt to bring down a US-bound jet carrying 290 people on Christmas Day.
According to CNN, 50 percent backed Obama’s handling of terrorism. CBS News put that figure at 52 percent and found that 57 percent approved of the way Obama had managed the Christmas attack, compared to 29 percent who disapproved.
The keys to a possible Obama recovery, after the likely passage of health care reform, and if the economy recovers, were also evident in the polls.
Some 64 percent of those asked by CNN said Obama had the “personality and leadership” qualities required of a President.
But the White House will be concerned by the finding by CBS News that Obama’s standing among independent voters whom he attracted in his 2008 election triumph has fallen to 42 percent — a decline of 10 percentage points in the last few months alone.