President Obama's frenetic push for a jampacked domestic agenda has sapped his popularity, diminishing his clout as Congress reaches a crucial stage of the debate on onverhauling the nation's health care system.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 53% of Americans approve of Mr. Obama's job performance, while 40% disapprove. That compares favorably to George Bush's 50% and Bill Clinton's 45% at similar points in their presidencies. But it has declined from 61% in April and 56% in June.
His approval rating on foreign policy remains a robust 57%. But his approval on handling the economy has declined to 49%, and on handling health care to 41%.
Part of the fallout appears links to lingering concern about the economy. With unemployment at 9.5%, jobs remains the top concerns of Americans in the survey, following by the deficit and government spending.
Among concerns expressed by Americans about his president, most often mentioned was the level of spending Mr. Obama has supported.
Democrats retain significant advantages over Republicans in public assessments of their ability to handle policy on energy, health care, and getting the economy out of recession. But those advantage have diminished from levels at the end of the Bush presidency.
The results suggest the public, even as it worries about jobs, has little appetite for additional stimulus spending. Some 59% said the president and Congress should focus more about keeping the deficit down, compared to 36% who said they should focus on boosting the economy.
The telephone survey of 1,011 adults, conducted July 24-27 with a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points, showed Americans split on the merits of Mr. Obama's health plan and the so-called "public option" to offer coverage in competition with insurance companies.
On specific provisions under consideration, 68% called it acceptable to finance health coverage by taxing incomes over $1-million; 56% approved of raising taxes on incomes over $350,000.
Americans split on whether businesses should be required to offer coverage to their employees. Six in ten call it "not acceptable" to require Americans to purchase coverage — the so-called "individual mandate" that the White House and House and Senate Democrats are leaning toward.