Most Americans say nation is headed off track: NBC-WSJ poll

President Barack Obama
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President Barack Obama

Months of partisan bickering in Washington have taken a toll on the political standing of every power center in the capital, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has found.

Some 61 percent of Americans polled say the nation is headed off on the wrong track compared to 29 percent who say it's headed in the right direction; that compares to the 53 percent and 41 percent, respectively, findings last December in the wake of President Obama's re-election.

Mr. Obama's own job approval has declined to 45 percent, with 50 percent disapproving; that's down from 53-43 percent in December. Congress drew its worst approval score in the quarter-century history, with just 12 percent approving and 83 percent percent disapproving. Americans rate House Speaker John Boehner negatively by a two to one margin, with 36 percent expressing negative views and 18 percent positive.

(Read more: Scandals haven't dented Obama's job approval yet: Poll)

"There's palpable unhappiness with Washington," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the NBC/WSJ survey with Republican counterpart Bill McInturff. "Outside the Beltway, voters are simply saying, 'you don't get it.' "

In some ways, that result seems surprising in light of some positive recent economic news. But the fact that the two parties have failed to achieve breakthroughs on major issues this year, amid polarizing controversies ranging from IRS misconduct to the George Zimmerman trial, appear to have left a deeper mark on public attitudes. Indeed, the proportion of Americans who predict the economy will get better in the next year has dropped to 31% from 38% in December.

(Read more: US problems about more than 'moral values': NBC/WSJ poll)

More Americans say that major political figures – Mr. Obama, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party – are emphasizing partisanship rather than unifying the country. Mr. Obama fares best on that question, the GOP the worst.

A 56 percent majority say Republicans in Congress are too inflexible in dealing with the White House, and by 53 percent to 43 percent, Americans predict Mr. Obama won't be able to get much done in his final years in office. If Congress fails to enact an immigration bill, 44 percent say Republicans in Congress would be to blame. Some 14 percent would blame Democrats, while 21 percent would blame Mr. Obama.

The telephone survey of 1,000 adults, conducted July 17-21, carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.

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In the wake of the Zimmerman trial for the shooting deal of Trayvon Martin, some 52 percent of Americans call U.S. race relations good, 44 percent bad. But that conceals an enormous racial disparity, since 58 percent of African-Americans describe race relations as bad. While 59 percent of whites say the U.S. is a place where people are judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, on 19 percent of blacks agree.