Unhappy mood blankets 2016 campaign: Poll

Voters growing more pessimistic: Poll
Voters growing more pessimistic: Poll
Can GOP ignite American optimism?
Can GOP ignite American optimism?
Chris Christie on 2016 race
Chris Christie on 2016 race

The mood of American voters remains stuck in the doldrums, and mid-summer casualties for now include President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

Those are among the findings of the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. The proportion of Americans who think the country is headed in the wrong direction has risen to 65 percent, the proportion who approve of Obama's job performance has fallen to 45 percent, and the proportion who view Clinton unfavorably has jumped to 48 percent.

In the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump has moved into first place even though a 49 percent plurality of Republicans say they cannot envision supporting him. The share who say they could support Bush has fallen to 57 percent from 75 percent in June—a sign, says NBC/WSJ pollster Peter Hart, that the one-time establishment front-runner with overflowing campaign treasury now resembles a stalled oceanliner.

Trump is the first choice of 19 percent of Republican voters, followed by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin at 15 percent and Bush at 14 percent. In the sprawling and fragmented Republican field, the only other candidate to draw double-digit support was Ben Carson with 10 percent.

In the Democratic nomination contest, Clinton retains a large lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 59 percent to 25 percent. But that's down significantly from her 75 percent to 15 percent lead in June.

The poll contains mixed results for both parties. By 39 percent to 37 percent, Republicans have taken a slight lead when Americans are asked which party the next president should come from. By 67 percent to 30 percent, they say the next president should take a different approach from Obama rather than a similar approach.

At the same time, the public's tepid image of the Democratic Party is better than its strongly negative image of the GOP. Americans divide evenly, 38 percent to 38 percent, between favorable and unfavorable views of the Democrats. But their view of Republicans is lopsided: 28 percent positive, 44 percent negative. And by a 50 percent margin, they say government should do more rather than less to solve problems, a stance more closely matching the Democratic position.

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On issues, Americans favor Democrats by 15 percentage points on which party does better at "looking out for the middle class." They favor Republicans by 6 percentage points on dealing with the economy and 8 percentage points on foreign policy.

Americans hold slightly less optimistic views about the economy than earlier this year. Just 25 percent expect the economy to improve in the next year, compared to 21 percent in March.

The telephone survey of 1,000 adults, conducted July 26-30, carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.