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Obama's Presidency Is on the Ropes -- Again

Our brand-new NBC/WSJ poll shows Obama’s overall job-approval rating at 41%, a three-point drop from two months ago.
Image: President Barack Obama waves from Air Force One
President Barack Obama waves from Air Force One upon his arrival at JFK International Airport in New York, on Tuesday. Obama traveled to New York to speak at Democratic National Committee's (DNC) annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) gala.AP

Obama’s presidency on the ropes -- again

Just when our NBC/WSJ poll from April showed President Barack Obama bouncing back a bit after the surge of enrollment in the health-care exchanges, then came the crisis in Ukraine. Then the VA hospital controversy. The controversial Bowe Bergdahl release. And now the current instability in Iraq. And they’ve knocked Obama back down to where he was during the HealthCare.Gov woes -- or even worse. Our brand-new NBC/WSJ poll shows Obama’s overall job-approval rating at 41%, a three-point drop from two months ago. His foreign-policy handling has declined to 37%, his all-time low. His fav/unfav numbers are back underwater (41%-45%) after being in the positive territory in April (44%-41%). And perhaps most troubling of all for Obama, 54% of Americans believe that he no longer can lead the country and get the job done for the remainder of his term. “This is a bad poll for President Obama, and not a good poll for anybody else,” said NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R). Added co-pollster Peter Hart (D): “Whether it’s [Vladimir] Putin, Ukraine, the VA hospitals, Bowe Bergdahl, the events have controlled Obama, rather than Obama having controlled the events,” he said. “He may be winning the issues debate, but he’s losing the political debate, because they don’t see him as a leader.” We’ve seen Obama on the ropes before during his presidency (think after the debt-ceiling fiasco, after the health-care website crash). Can he get off of them one more time? He’s getting awfully close to that “he doesn’t have time to recover” period of the presidency.

More oppose Bergdahl swap than support it

Our NBC/WSJ poll was crafted before the instability in Iraq grabbed headlines, so it doesn’t contain questions on that subject (though we will have Iraq data in a few days). It also was conducted before the United States arrested a suspect in the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Still, it shows an American public that has grown dissatisfied with President Obama on foreign policy and national-security decisions. In addition to his foreign-policy handling dropped to 37%, Americans -- by a 44%-30% margin -- 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. The poll also shows that 59% oppose closing the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects, which is up seven points since 2009.

GOP in a weaker position than it was in 2010

So the poll shows Obama in worse shape now (41% job rating) than he was at this point in 2010 (45% job rating), which is good news for Republicans heading into November’s midterm elections, right? Well, maybe not. Here is something important to consider: Republicans are in worse shape now than they were four years ago, too. 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. In June 2010, the Tea Party’s fav/unfav was at a positive 34%-31%. That perhaps helps explain why Democrats in our current NBC/WSJ poll have a two-point advantage on congressional preference, 45%-43%, despite the brutal numbers for Obama. And then there’s this BIG difference: At this point in 2010, Democrats had a narrow congressional-preference lead with women (44%-43%), and the GOP had a significant advantage with white women (51%-36%). Now? Democrats hold a double-digit with all women (50%-38%), and white women are pretty much a jump ball (GOP 45%, Dems 44%). As we’ve said before, female voters -- and female candidates -- are likely to decide the outcome of the midterm elections and specifically control of the U.S. Senate. And right now, the GOP has some work to do here.

Americans divided on Obama’s competence

When to comes to President Obama, one other set of numbers stand out to us: 50% say his administration is competent managing the federal government, and an equal 50% don’t think it has been competent. To put that finding into perspective, when the same question was asked about George W. Bush -- after Hurricane Katrina and the increased violence in Iraq -- 53% said his administration was competent vs. 46% who said it wasn’t. So Bush fared BETTER on this question than Obama. That has to sting for the folks in the West Wing. But this is the result of the V.A. on top of the initial health care web site debacle; and for some, the lost IRS emails of Lois Lerner end up either as a conspiracy or incompetency… and it ends up begging the question, what other agencies are messed up? And could any federal agency look efficient after weeks of scrutiny?

Hillary’s a juggernaut in a Democratic primary, but not so much for the general election

Turning to 2016, our NBC/WSJ poll shows that Hillary Clinton is a juggernaut among Democratic voters. Her personal attributes (being knowledgeable and experienced, being compassionate, being likeable) have soared with Dems from where they were in 2007-2008. And it’s more evidence that she will face no real resistance in a Democratic primary if she runs in 2016. But she’s hardly a juggernaut for the general election. Americans are split, 38%-37%, over whether they definitely/probably will vote for her or if they definitely won’t; 23% are in the middle saying there is “some chance” they might vote for her. What’s more, her fav/unfav numbers -- not surprisingly -- have come back down to earth since her secretary of state days. Back in Jan. 2013, her score was a whopping 56%-25%. Now it’s 44%-37%. Don’t get us wrong: Any politician who’s above water in today’s political climate is doing something right. (After all, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, and Chris Christie have all been underwater in our poll.) But it’s also a reminder that Hillary isn’t a sure bet for the White House in 2016.

Dissatisfaction with everyone in Washington

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% 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. So this is one unhappy electorate, even though most data show that the U.S. economy is in better shape than it has been in a long time.

Other findings in our poll

After the Obama administration announced its new EPA 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… And only 27% say the Afghanistan war was worth it -- down 13 points from a year ago.

White House rules out airstrikes in Iraq

As President Obama meets with congressional leaders to discuss the situation in Iraq at 3:00 pm ET, here is some news we can report: The Obama White House has RULED OUT using airstrikes (from U.S. planes and ships). Its reasoning: There is just too much of a risk in civilian casualties and no good targets. Instead, if it does decide to use force, it will come from special forces and drones. Indeed, don’t forget what Obama said about combatting terrorists -- with drones and not U.S. soldiers -- in his West Point speech from last month. “When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do, through capture operations, like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice, or drone strikes, like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia,” he said.

Q-Poll: Braley leads Ernst by four points

Lastly, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Bruce Braley (D) with a four-point lead over Joni Ernst (R), 44%-40%, after Ernst easily won her GOP primary earlier this month. That’s a closer race than Braley’s 13-point lead in a March Q-poll. But the result is different from some other polls, which had Ernst in the lead. Remember, Iowa is a classic swing. But Democrats traditionally have had an advantage in organization.

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