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First Thoughts: Public places a curse on all of Washington

NBC/WSJ poll: Public places a curse on all of Washington… Last two polls have shown historic lows in approval and favorable ratings and historic highs in public dissatisfaction… Explaining Obama’s dropping approval: A boat that keeps accumulating water will eventually sink… That said, troubled health-care rollout hasn’t damaged the law’s standing that much… Comparing Obama’s slide with Bush’s… Syria meets deadline for destroying chemical weapons… And First on First Read: DNC taps Amy Dacey to be its new CEO.

*** Public places a curse on all of Washington: On this Halloween, it’s only appropriate to point out that ALL Washington politicians have been cursed by the American public after the government shutdown and after the latest sparring over the health-care law and its website troubles. According to our new NBC/WSJ poll, just 42% approve of President Obama’s job performance (his all-time low in the poll), and 51% disapprove of his job (tied for his all-time high). What’s more, for the first time in the survey, Obama’s fav/unfav rating is upside-down, with 41% viewing him a favorable light and 45% viewing him negatively. But it’s not just the president. The public’s view of the Republican Party has reached another all-time low in the survey, with now just 22% seeing the GOP in a positive light and 53% viewing it negatively; House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell remain unpopular at record levels; 63% of voters want to replace their own member of Congress (which is the highest percentage ever recorded on this question that dates back to 1992); only 22% think the nation is headed in the right direction; and half of respondents (50%) think it’s likely there will be another government shutdown. If either party is trying to comfort themselves in the others’ woes, then they are completely misreading the message from the public.

Night falls over the U.S. Capitol Dome. file photo

*** All the highs and lows over the past month: Here’s another way to look at our last two NBC/WSJ polls taken during and after the government shutdown -- all the highs and lows in these two surveys. The country on the wrong track (78%) tied for its high; Obama’s approval rating (42%) reached its low; the GOP’s fav/unfav also reached new lows (24%-53% in early October; 22%-53% in late October); House Speaker John Boehner saw his highest negative rating (43%); so did Harry Reid (34%) and Mitch McConnell (28%). Bottom line: The events over the past month (the shutdown and the poor health-care rollout) have angered the American public. They’ve been in an anti-Washington mood for some time. But folks, we’re now at historic levels. And this raises the question: What is it going to take for the politicians in Washington to get the message? Republicans might be rejoicing in Obama reaching new lows in our new NBC/WSJ poll. But this finding should SCARE THE HECK out of them on this Halloween: Asked to pick their choice for a member of Congress -- among a Democrat, Republican, or third-party candidate -- the Democrat comes out on top with 35%, the third-party candidate comes in second at 30%, and the GOP candidate comes in third at 28%. And ready for this: For the second-straight survey, a majority of adults told us they do not identify with EITHER major party. If you want to know why it’s foolhardy to weight by party ID, it’s for findings like this. The public is uncomfortable being identified with either party -- with the GOP losing folks a lot faster than Dems.

*** Explaining Obama’s dropping approval: A boat that keeps accumulating water eventually will sink: All that said, it’s a big deal in our poll that Obama has hit all-time lows. For his entire presidency, he had been able to float above much of the dissatisfaction with Washington, as well as the unhappiness with the state of the economy. (Perhaps the public kept holding out hope that the candidate many fell in love with in 2008 would eventually change Washington.) But that’s no longer the case. The NBC/WSJ pollsters argue that no single reason explains Obama’s lower poll standing. Rather, they attribute it to the accumulation of setbacks since the summer -- allegations of spying by the National Security Agency, the debate over Syria’s chemical weapons, the government shutdown and now intense scrutiny over the problems associated with the health-care law’s federal website and its overall implementation. At some point, a boat can’t keep accumulating water -- or it starts to sink. And that’s what is happening with Obama right now.

*** Troubled health-care rollout hasn’t damaged the law’s standing too much: But while the troubled health-care rollout hasn’t been good news for Obama’s political standing, it hasn’t damaged the health-care law’s standing that much. Per the poll, 37% see the law as a good idea, versus 47% who see it as a bad idea. That’s down slightly from the 38% good idea, 43% bad idea in the previous survey. But the public is divided over whether the problems associated with the health-care law’s federal website are a short-term issue than can be solved, or a long-term issue that signals deeper troubles. In the poll, 37% say that the website woes are a short-term technical problem that can be fixed, while 31% believe they point to a longer-term issue with the law’s design that can’t be corrected. Another 30% think it’s too soon to say. Bottom line: Much of the public is more patient about the website woes that the media are. That said, here’s something the White House shouldn’t ignore: A combined majority says the law should either be totally eliminated (24%) or needs a major overhaul (28%).

*** Comparing Obama’s slide with Bush’s: It’s worth noting that George W. Bush’s approval rating at this same point in his second term (Oct. 2005) was at 39%. That, of course, was the erosion he suffered after the Iraq war worsened, as well as after Hurricane Katrina. Bush, of course, never recovered. What the White House needs to understand is that, at some point, when new floors are set (42%), new ceilings are set, too. In other words, if he bounces back, it may not be as high as it once was. Of course, it could be even worse: Perhaps this is a short-term setback, but second terms can have their tipping-point moments.

*** Syria meets deadline for destroying chemical weapons: Given all the attention to the debate over Syria’s chemical weapons in late August and early September, this is a story worth pointing out. The New York Times: “The international chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that Syria had met a key deadline for ‘the functional destruction’ of all the chemical weapons production and mixing facilities declared to inspectors, ‘rendering them inoperable’ under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.” A statement from the Joint Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons adds, “The Joint Mission is now satisfied that it has verified - and seen destroyed - all of Syria's declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment. Given the progress made in the Joint OPCW-UN Mission in meeting the requirements of the first phase of activities, no further inspection activities are currently planned.” Among the frustrations inside the White House is that they aren’t getting credit for this development. Ditto with the news about the deficit, per the AP: “The government says the deficit for the 2013 budget year totaled $680.3 billion, down from $1.09 trillion in 2012. That’s the smallest imbalance since 2008, when the government ran a $458.6 billion deficit.”

*** First on First Read: NBC News has learned that the Democratic National Committee has tapped veteran Democratic strategist Amy Dacey to be its CEO. Dacey, who previously served as executive director at EMILY’s List and also worked at the SEIU and had stints at the DSCC and DCCC, takes over for Acting Executive Director Laura Santucci. “Amy brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and strategic insight that will be instrumental in helping the DNC continue to grow, build on the electoral gains we made in 2012, advocate on behalf of the president’s agenda and prepare a robust campaign operation for 2014 and 2016,” DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is expected to say in an upcoming news release. The DNC outraised the Republican National Committee last month, and says it’s on pace for its most successful two months of online fundraising in its history. But the RNC has outraised it so far for the cycle, $61 million to $49 million. The RNC also has more cash on hand by a 2-to-1 margin.

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