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Obama hits all-time lows, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll

When Barack Obama unveils his jobs and economic plan on Thursday, he'll do so at the lowest point of his presidency, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
/ Source: NBC News

When Barack Obama unveils his jobs and economic plan to a joint session of Congress on Thursday, he'll do so at the lowest point of his presidency, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

After the bruising debt-ceiling fight — as well as Standard & Poor's subsequent downgrade of the nation's credit rating — Obama's job approval rating has sunk to a low of 44 percent, a 3-point drop since July. His handling of the economy stands at a low of 37 percent. And only 19 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, the lowest mark for this president.

Perhaps most ominously for Obama, a majority of poll takers — 54 percent — think he's facing a longer-term setback from which he's unlikely to recover. Back in January, just 39 percent agreed with that assessment.

Indeed, that 54 percent is virtually identical to George W. Bush's score on the same question in the Nov. 2005 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which was released just months after Bush's widely criticized handling of Hurricane Katrina.

"When [Obama] addresses the American public, he is going to have one more chance to provide some sense of hope and optimism that he ... can provide answers to what is a woeful economy," said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

But both Hart and McInturff contend that Obama wasn't the only party damaged by the debt ceiling debacle. A whopping 82 percent now disapprove of the job Congress is doing. In the history of this poll, it's an all-time high level of dissatisfaction with Capitol Hill.

In addition, when asked who is most to blame for the S&P downgrade, a plurality points to congressional Republicans. And a majority of respondents say they would vote out every single member of Congress if they could.

"Everybody in Washington is taking a substantial hit," McInturff said.

Silver linings for Obama
Yet Obama, in particular, took a gut punch. According to the poll, just 42 percent give the president high marks for possessing strong leadership qualities. That’s a 12-point drop from May (in the days following Osama bin Laden’s death).

In addition, his high marks for being a good commander in chief have plunged 10 points (from 51 percent in May to his current 41 percent rating); his high marks for having the ability to handle a crisis have dropped 14 points (from 53 percent to 39 percent); and his high marks for achieving his goals have declined another 14 points (from 41 percent to 27 percent).

If there's a silver lining for Obama, it's that a combined 70 percent of respondents still find him likeable (though nearly six in 10 say they disapprove of many of his policies). And 50 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, which Hart says is significant because it suggests that the public doesn't think that everything Obama touches can be viewed negatively.

What's more, in a hypothetical general election contest, Obama leads Texas Gov. Rick Perry by five points, 47 percent to 42 percent. And he leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by one, 46 percent to 45 percent, though that margin is down five points since June.

But for the first time in the poll, more say they'd probably vote for a generic Republican candidate (44 percent) than say they'd probably vote for Obama (40 percent).

"Obama is no longer the favorite to win re-election," Hart said, explaining that a head-to-head score will usually conform to the generic one, especially when so many believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Perry takes commanding GOP lead
And there's a new favorite in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Heading into the post-Labor Day sprint and the NBC News/Politico-sponsored debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Wednesday, Perry is the first choice among 38 percent of GOP voters — followed by Romney at 23 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 9 percent and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 8 percent.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain are tied with 5 percent of GOP voters each, while former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gets 3 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman gets 2 percent.

The NBC/WSJ survey is the latest poll to show Perry leading Romney nationally. In recent days, Gallup, Quinnipiac and CNN have had Perry out in front.

On the 'super committee' and 9/11
Also this week, Congress returns to work, and topping the agenda is the start to the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — better known as the “super committee.”

In the poll, 60 percent say it would be acceptable if the "super committee" considers reducing the deficit by ending the so-called Bush tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or more per year. Moreover, 56 percent say it would be acceptable if it considers reducing the deficit by a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

By comparison, just 37 percent believe it’s acceptable for the committee to reduce the deficit by only cutting spending and not raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. And only 20 percent say it’s acceptable to lower the deficit by reducing spending on Medicare.

Finally, this Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. According to the poll, 42 percent believe the U.S. is now safer than it was before the attacks — a 9-point increase from Aug. 2010.

Thirty-six percent think the U.S. is about as safe as it was before the attacks, and 21 percent say it’s less safe.

But, by more than a 2-to-1 margin, respondents maintain that the 9/11 attacks had less of a personal impact to them than the economic recession did.

Forty-six percent cited the recession as the event that had the greatest effect on them, versus 20 percent who cited the 9/11 attacks.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted of 1,000 adults (200 reached by cell phone) from Aug. 27-31, and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.