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Poll: Slight Improvements But Tough Terrain Ahead for Democrats

Obama’s job approval rating now stands at 44 percent.
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Support for President Barack Obama and his health care law has grown this month, but a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll still reflects difficult terrain for Democrats with six months to go before midterm elections.

The higher support for the law, known as Obamacare, comes after the White House announced that 8 million Americans have enrolled in its insurance exchanges, beating expectations.

Overall, the results are better but still not good for Democrats, said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who conducted the survey with Peter Hart, a Democratic counterpart.

“These are very, very difficult numbers,” McInturff said. Hart used a baseball analogy: For Democrats, “It’s like the difference between from being five runs down to one or two.”

Some highlights from the poll:

  • Obama’s job-approval rating is 44 percent, an increase of 3 percentage points from last month. That movement falls within the poll’s margin of error.
  • For the first time since early October, just as the disastrous launch of the federal health care website began to get attention, more people rate the president personally favorable than unfavorable, 44 percent compared with 41 percent.
  • 36 percent see the health care law as a good idea, compared with 46 percent who see it as a bad idea. That is slightly better than figures of 35 percent and 49 percent last month.

Obama’s small rebound vs. Bush’s continued slide

According to the poll, 44 percent of adults approve of Obama’s job as president, while 50 percent disapprove. That’s up from March, when 41 percent approved and 54 percent disapproved.

“The narrative that Barack Obama, like George W. Bush, is headed for an inexorable slide downward … this poll says that — for now — this verdict is incorrect.”

Obama gained 3 percentage points among Democrats, 74 percent of whom approve of the job he is doing. He gained 5 percentage points among Republicans, to 12 percent approval, and 5 percentage points among women, to 49 percent.

That represents a departure from George W. Bush’s declining approval numbers at the same point in his presidency. In March 2006, Bush’s job approval rating stood at 37 percent, and it sank to 36 percent the next month.

“The narrative that Barack Obama, like George W. Bush, is headed for an inexorable slide downward … this poll says that — for now — this verdict is incorrect,” said Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research.

Bracing for a tough midterm season

But like Bush in 2006, Obama and his party are bracing for a tough midterm season.

The NBC/WSJ poll found that 45 percent of voters want a Republican-controlled Congress, the same share who want Democrats in charge.

Yet among the voters with the highest interest in the midterms, the GOP holds a 15-point advantage, 53 percent to 38 percent, on congressional preference.

In addition to the president’s approval rating being below 50 percent — always dangerous territory for the party controlling the White House — just 27 percent believe that the country is headed in the right direction.

Only 26 percent think the economy will improve within the next year, unchanged from the March poll. And a majority of Americans agree with the statement that the economic and political system is stacked against them.

Still, a plurality of respondents — 47 percent — says that Obama has inherited the current economic conditions rather than being responsible for them.

Although that’s down from December 2010 (65 percent) and August 2011 (56 percent), Hart, the Democratic pollster, argues that the finding is striking because Obama is in the sixth year of his presidency.

“The public is giving him at least some of a pass on that,” Hart says.

Health care law remains unpopular

When it comes to the health care law, 36 percent say it’s a good idea versus 46 percent who believe it’s a bad idea — a slight improvement from last month, when it was 35 percent to 49 percent.

A plurality, 40 percent, believes the law needs minor modifications to improve it; 28 percent say it needs an overhaul; 21 percent want it “totally eliminated”; and 8 percent say it’s working well as is.

What’s more, just 13 percent believe that the law is having a positive impact on their families, 28 percent say it’s having a negative impact, and 58 percent say it hasn’t had much of an impact.

And 40 percent of voters said that Republicans should eliminate the health care law if they have control of both the House and Senate, while 38 percent said that Democrats should keep it if they control both chambers.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted April 23-27 of 1,000 adults (including 300 cellphone-only respondents), and it has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.