Obama's narrow base of support imperils his turnaround effort 

He campaigned on a promise to unite Washington and the nation, but President Obama opens his second year in office as the most polarizing chief executive in modern history and mostly out of step with public priorities, polls show.

As he huddles with speechwriters and practices for Wednesday's State of the Union address, surveys depict Obama as sharply at odds with public opinion and struggling to regain the unity and promise of his historic election.

A new Gallup poll found a 65 percentage point difference in how Obama is perceived by the two parties -- 88 percent of Democrats approve of the job he is doing, to 23 percent of Republicans who think so.

Obama's point spread ranks him as the most polarizing first-year president dating back to Dwight Eisenhower, who posted a comparatively mellow 32 percentage point gap. President Reagan's split was 45 percentage points, and President Clinton was second place to Obama with 52 percentage points.

"I think we live in a very divided country," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said of the Gallup poll. "But again, as we've talked about, you can't change the way Washington works if some people don't want to change the way this place works."

A central theme of Obama's address to Congress and the nation will be Washington's partisan divisions, combined with a renewed appeal for the parties to work together -- a key pitch for regaining the support of independent voters, who have moved sharply away from the president and his party since helping deliver gain the White House and a supermajority in Congress in 2008. The latest Gallup poll found 45 percent of independents approve of Obama's job performance.

The president also is expected to respond to prevailing public moods by emphasizing new efforts to help the middle class and work on the economy.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found the president's yearlong emphasis on health care reform largely at odds with many Americans' top priorities.

 

Resistance grows to key Obama initiatives Some shifting perceptions about President Obama find their source in polls tracking the drop in public support for his top issues. A recent CNN/Opinion Research poll found 63 percent believe projects included in the $787 billion economic stimulus package were included for political reasons, while just 36 percent said the projects will benefit the economy. The poll found that 56 percent of Americans oppose the stimulus, while 42 percent support it. In March, shortly after the stimulus bill was signed into law, a CNN poll found that 54 percent supported the policy, while 44 percent opposed it. Similarly, a Rasmussen survey last week found 61 percent of voters want Congress to dump Obama's health care reform plan and focus on jobs and the economy. Those strongly opposing the plan increased from 30 percent in early September to 50 percent last week, while those strongly in favor dropped from 31 percent to 18 percent over the same period.

 

 

While Obama has put it all on the line for a likely dead health care effort, 83 percent of Americans rated the economy as a top concern, followed by jobs at 81 percent.

Health care reform was eighth on the list after terrorism, Social Security, education, Medicare and deficit reduction. Other Obama signature issues, such as the environment, ranked even lower.

"The public perception has been that his main focus has been on the health care battle, with a lot of overseas stuff -- Guantanamo Bay, the Olympics, his Nobel Peace Prize, Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida. "You look at this huge list of things, and many of them are not unemployment and crawling out of this bad economy."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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