New poll: Democrat lead over GOP is smallest in five years; doubts about Obama continue to grow 

The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked respondents whether they would prefer to see next year's elections result in a Congress controlled by Democrats or a Congress controlled by Republicans. The result: 48 percent say they would prefer Democrats in control, and 45 percent say Republicans. That three-point Democratic lead is down from seven points lead in July and nine points in April.

It's also far smaller than the massive 19-point lead Democrats held over Republicans in June 2008. So in less than a year and a half, the Democratic margin has fallen from 19 points to 3. (The last time the Democratic lead was so slim was five years ago, in October 2004. The last time Republicans held the lead in the Congressional question was October 2002.)

The poll shows continued weakness in support for the president's national health care plan. In response to the question, "From what you have heard about Barack Obama's health care plan, do you think his plan is a good idea or a bad idea?" 39 percent say Obama's plan is a good idea, while 41 percent say it is a bad idea, and 17 percent have no opinion. The number of people who say it's a good idea has risen six points since April, while the number of people who say it's a bad idea has risen 15 points in the same time.

Approval of Obama's handling of health care has gone up a bit in the wake of his full-court-press public relations campaign -- it's now 45 percent, up from 41 percent in April. But it's still smaller than the 46 percent who disapprove of his handling of health care, even after all the speeches and TV appearances.

Obama's overall job approval rating is 51 percent, unchanged from August and down from 61 percent in April.

Finally, the poll suggests the public has growing doubts about the Obama agenda in general, and not just the president's handling of any single issue. The Journal asked "How confident are you that Barack Obama has the right set of goals and policies to be president of the United States -- extremely confident, quite confident, only somewhat confident, or not at all confident?" The number of people who are extremely or quite confident is 45 percent, down from 54 percent in February. The number of people who are only somewhat confident or not at all confident is 54 percent, up from 45 percent in February.

Breaking it down a little further, the number of people who say they are extremely confident in Obama's goals has fallen from 31 percent in February to 24 percent today, while the number of people who say they are not at all confident has risen from 19 percent in February to 31 percent today.
 

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