As they prepare for climactic votes on health care reform, lawmakers face an angry public that isn't likely to applaud any decision they make, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
The survey showed Congress with a paltry 17 percent approval rating from the public, with opinions decidedly mixed on lawmakers seeking to stop or advance President Obama's health care agenda.
"Memo from the American public to Congress: you stink," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the NBC/WSJ poll with his Republican counterpart Bill McInturff. And on health care, Mr. Hart added, "There's no safe place."
Obama's overall popularity dipped slightly since January. Some 48 percent approve of his performance in office while 47 percent disapprove; in late January, 50 percent approved while 44 percent disapproved.
Approval of his handling of the economy remained unchanged at 47 percent, a level Mr. Hart called remarkably high given the effects of the recession and unemployment hovering around 10 percent.
But most critical at the moment is the president's priority of health care reform. Americans split evenly, 46 percent to 45 percent, on whether it's better for Congress to pass the plan or preserve the current system.
Pluralities of voters said they'd be less likely to vote for a Republican member of Congress who opposes Obama's plan, and for a Democratic member of Congress who favors it.
Helping to explain that sour reaction is that 50 percent of Americans said they wished they could vote every member of Congress out of office irrespective of party.
"The public is disgusted and unhappy," Mr. Hart said. But he added that if he were advising Democratic lawmakers, he'd say they had "no choice" but to vote in favor of Obama's plan because its failure would trigger a catastrophic loss of enthusiasm among Democratic voters in mid-term elections this fall.
The telephone survey of 1,000 adults was conducted March 11-14. It carries a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.