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NBC/WSJ poll: Obama approval sinks to new low

President Barack Obama’s approval rating has declined to an all-time low as public frustration with Washington and pessimism about the nation’s direction continue to grow, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Just 42 percent approve of the president’s job performance, which is down five points from earlier this month. By comparison, 51 percent disapprove of his job in office -- tied for his all-time high.

President Barack Obama speaks about health insurance at Faneuil Hall in Boston.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

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.

Read the full poll here (.pdf)

Those events have combined to erase some of the advantage the president gained with polls showing most Americans blame congressional Republicans for the shutdown.

And for the first time in the survey, even Obama’s personal ratings are upside-down, with 41 percent viewing him a favorable light and 45 percent viewing him negatively.

“Personally and politically, the public’s assessment is two thumbs down,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

Mad as hell as we’re not going to take it anymore’

But that two-thumbs-down assessment also applies to almost every other politician measured in the poll. Consider:

  • The public’s view of the Republican Party has reached another all-time low in the survey, with 22 percent seeing the GOP in a positive light and 53 percent viewing it negatively;
  • House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell remain unpopular;
  • Sixty-three percent 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;
  • Seventy-four percent believe Congress is contributing to problems in Washington rather than solving them;
  • Only 22 percent think the nation is headed in the right direction;
  • And half of respondents (50 percent) think it’s likely that there will be another government shutdown.
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GOP pollster McInturff says that if the previous NBC/WSJ poll -- conducted during the shutdown -- sent shock waves hitting the Republican Party, this new poll is sending shock waves hitting everyone else.

“It feels like we’re in a Howard Beale moment,” adds Hart, referring to an often-quoted line from the 1976 movie “Network.”

“We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore,” Hart paraphrases from that movie.

Measuring the shutdown’s aftermath

And the American public is particularly mad -- at everyone -- after the government shutdown.

By a 41 percent-to-21 percent margin, respondents say they have a less favorable impression of President Obama after the shutdown rather than a more favorable one.

Ditto congressional Tea Party Republicans (45 percent to 12 percent) and congressional Republicans (53 percent to 9 percent).

Read the full poll here (.pdf)

Still, more Americans blame congressional Republicans for the shutdown (38 percent) than Obama (23 percent), while 36 percent say they blame both sides equally.

But the poll also shows that the political gains that Democrats made during the shutdown have eroded somewhat.

Democrats have a four-point advantage among voters, 45 percent to 41 percent, on which party should control Congress after next year’s midterm elections. Yet that’s down from the eight-point edge, 47 percent to 39 percent, they held in the last NBC/WSJ poll.

And measuring the health care rollout

In addition, the health care law is slightly less popular than it was earlier this month, according to the poll.

Thirty-seven percent see it as a good idea, versus 47 percent who see it as a bad idea. That’s down from the 38 percent good idea, 43 percent 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 percent say that the website woes are a short-term technical problem that can be fixed, while 31 percent believe they point to a longer-term issue with the law’s design that can’t be corrected.

Another 30 percent think it’s too soon to say.

In a separate question, 40 percent say they are less confident about the health-care law from what they recently have seen, heard or read about it; 9 percent are more confident; and 50 percent say there has been no change.

As Hart puts it, “The sign-up problems have hurt the president personally rather than hurt the law.”

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Oct. 25-28 of 800 adults (including 240 cell phone-only respondents), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.5 percentage points.