WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is dragging down his party and hurting the prospects of fellow Democrats as they head into midterm elections that will determine who controls Congress, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
Obama is beset by problems at home and abroad. Just 40 percent of voters approve of the way he’s doing his job, tying his worst mark in three years and the second worst of his presidency.
Just 39 percent approve of the way he’s dealing with the economy and only 33 percent approve of how he’s dealing with foreign policy, the worst of his years in office.
By 42 percent to 32 percent, voters say their opinions of Obama make them more likely to vote this fall for a Republican than for a Democrat.
And for the first time this election cycle, more people said they would vote for a Republican than a Democrat for Congress, by 43 percent to 38 percent.
“The Democrats are sputtering,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the national survey.
Republicans are making the campaign a referendum on Obama, hoping that discontent with the president will help them win control of the Senate and hold their majority in the House of Representatives.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats to gain control of the Senate, which many analysts see as within reach. The Republicans’ House majority, now 234 to 199, appears safe.
Obama and the Democrats have introduced proposals that could appeal to their base of supporters, including paying men and women equally, easing student-loan burdens and increasing the federal minimum wage. But support for the Democrats has continued to erode.
In December, voters’ opinions split evenly between the major parties. In February, they favored the Democrats by 2 percentage points, 46-44. In April, they favored the Democrats by 6 points, 48-42. Now they lean toward the Republicans by 5 points, 43-38.
Independents are driving the change.
The number of Americans who consider themselves independents has risen since Obama took office in 2009, Miringoff said, and now more of them are supporting Republicans.
Independents break for Republicans over Democrats by 40-26, with 12 percent picking neither party and 22 percent undecided.
“More people see themselves as independents, and those people seem to have bailed on Obama,” Miringoff said.
Independents disapprove of Obama’s job performance by 53 percent to 35 percent. They turn thumbs down on his handling of the economy by 58-39 percent, the same as the national result. They disapprove of his work on foreign policy by 64-31.
Republicans have the edge overall heading into the elections in all parts of the country, the poll found. One surprising source of support: Latino voters give only the edge to Democrats by 40 percent to 38 percent. Whites support Republicans by 48 percent to 34 percent; African-Americans support Democrats by 64 percent to 19 percent.
Foreign crises are helping to drive down Obama’s standing.
Just 30 percent approve of the way he’s handling the conflict between Israel and Hamas, while 55 percent disapprove. The numbers are worse among independents: 24 percent to 60 percent.
Also, just 32 percent approve the way he’s handling the turmoil in Ukraine, while 51 percent disapprove. Independents approve by 24 percent to 54 percent.
“None of these numbers are pretty,” Miringoff said.
Obama’s drag on the party is evident across the country, with voters more likely to vote for a Republican than a Democrat by 8 percentage points in the Midwest, 10 points in the South, 11 points in the Northeast and 13 points in the West.
Both genders are more likely to vote Republican than Democratic because of Obama, as are all age groups, whites and Latinos. African-Americans are more likely to vote for a Democrat.
Twenty-six percent of voters think Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against Obama, while 69 percent do not. The numbers were the same among independents.
With scant support, impeachment proceedings could produce a backlash that would help Democrats.
By 43 percent to 38 percent, voters said they’d be more likely to vote for a Democrat than a Republican if Congress started impeachment hearings, reversing the Republican edge heading into the elections. Again defining the landscape, independents by 39 percent to 32 percent would be more likely to vote Democratic in reaction to impeachment proceedings.
The House voted in July to sue Obama, accusing him of exceeding his authority in delaying the so-called employer mandate, a key provision of the 2010 health care law that congressional Republicans have aggressively sought to kill. The president has called the potential lawsuit a political stunt. Voters oppose a lawsuit by 58-34 percent.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says such a lawsuit wouldn’t be a prelude to impeaching Obama, brushing aside demands for that from a few on the right such as Sarah Palin and former Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.
METHODOLOGY OF POLL
This survey of 1,035 adults was conducted Aug. 4 by The Marist Poll sponsored in partnership with McClatchy. People 18 and older who live in the continental U.S. were interviewed by telephone using live interviewers. Landline numbers were randomly selected based on a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. This sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cellphone numbers from Survey Sampling International. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2010 census results for age, gender, income, race and region. Respondents in the household were selected by asking for the youngest male. Results are statistically significant within 3 percentage points. There are 806 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within 3.5 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.