President Barack Obama has suffered serious political damage from the troubled first year of his second term, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Both personally and professionally Americans have downgraded their assessments of Mr. Obama in ways that complicate his ability to push through his policies, the survey shows. Most conspicuous lately have been the problems with the rollout of the new health care law, which compounded damage earlier from controversies over the National Security Agency surveillance programs and the Internal Revenue Service.
The result: Mr. Obama's approval rating stands at just 43 percent, while 54 percent disapprove of his performance—the highest proportion of his presidency. Mr. Obama's standing, 52 percent in January following his Nov. 2012 re-election, has edged down all year.
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Declining as well are assessments of his personal qualities. While 56 percent still give the president high marks for being "easy-going and likable", that's down from 67 percent in late spring. Just 39 percent rate him highly for "having strong leadership qualities," down from 53 percent in January.
Perhaps most troubling of all for the White House, just 37 percent rate the president highly for "being honest and straightforward"—down from 47 percent in January and 63 percent at the outset of his presidency. Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducts the NBC/WSJ survey with his Republican counterpart Bill McInturff, pointed toward the president's discredited promise that Americans could keep insurance plans they liked under the new health care law as a contributing factor.
Mr. Obama's struggles with the law help explain why he hasn't benefited from improved assessments of the economy in recent weeks. The proportion of Americans predicting the economy will get worse in the next year has fallen to 24 percent from 42 percent in early October, amid anxiety about the government shutdown and federal debt limit. Yet public approval of Mr. Obama's handling of the economy has declined to 39 percent from 45 percent in September.
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Congress hardly fares well in the public's esteem. A 51 percent majority calls this year's Congress "one of the worst"; another 28 percent call it "below average."
But from that public opinion rubble, Republicans have gained a slight advantage heading into next year's mid-term elections. By 44 percent to 42 percent, Americans say they prefer Republicans to control Congress after election day, wiping out the 8-point edge Democrats opened up amid the government shutdown.
The results on health care show that 50 percent of Americans—the highest the NBC/WSJ poll has recorded—call the health care law a bad idea, while just 34 percent call it a good idea. Only slightly more encouraging to the Obama administration and Democrats is that only 26 percent say the law should be "totally eliminated". Another 31 percent say the law needs "a major overhaul."
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Another policy priority of the White House fares much better. Fully 63 percent of Americans back an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 from its current level of $7.25.
The telephone survey of 1,000 adults, conducted Dec. 4-8, carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.
—By CNBC's John Harwood. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnJHarwood