The nation’s gloom over economic conditions poses a serious threat to President Obama’s re-election chances, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
The survey shows that nearly half of all Americans, and two-thirds of Republicans, believe the country is headed back into recession. A 54 percent majority disapproves of Obama’s handling of the economy.
“The public is incredibly pessimistic about the future,” said Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducts the NBC/WSJ poll with his Republican counterpart Bill McInturff.
Added McInturff, “The president has substantial advantages, but is still in for a difficult race.”
President Obama’s overall job approval dipped back to 49 percent from 52 percent in May. That signals that the popularity boost he received after the special forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden has faded.
That 49 percent approval remains higher than some of his predecessors received at similar points when the economy was struggling.
Hart pointed toward the public’s positive feelings for Obama personally, and the fact that 62 percent of Americans say economic conditions reflect circumstances that he inherited rather that those he caused.
But the challenge facing the president was evident when voters are asked whether they intend to support him or the Republican candidate in 2012. Obama led by a narrow 45 to 40 margin, down from 49 percent to 30 percent in May.
His leading Republican challenger, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, is emphasizing the economy almost exclusively in his campaign. Romney leads among prospective GOP primary voters with 30 percent, compared to 14 percent for Sarah Palin, 12 percent for Herman Cain, 7 percent for Ron Paul, and 6 percent for Newt Gingrich.
Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum both received 4 percent, Michelle Bachmann 3 percent, and Jon Huntsman, who plans to enter the race next week, 1 percent.
Some 45 percent of Republican voters called themselves dissatisfied with the field of presidential candidates, more than double the proportion who answered that way at a similar point in the 2008 campaign.
That signals an opening for potential contenders who have not yet entered the race, including Palin, Huntsman, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The survey showed continued deep concern about government spending; some 63 percent said Washington should focus more on reducing the deficit even if it slows economic recovery, and a 45 percent plurality of Americans believe the 2009 economic stimulus didn't help the economy.
On raising the federal debt ceiling, Americans are split. A 39 percent plurality said it should not be raised, while 28 percent said it should be and 31 percent said they didn’t know enough.
The telephone survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted June 9-13, carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.