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While the stock market has picked up and the country appears to be pulling out of the recession, a majority of Americans - for the first time in the Obama presidency - says the U.S. is headed down the wrong track, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted Oct. 22-25.
Fifty-two percent say the country is on the wrong track compared to 36 percent who say it is headed in the right direction with 9 percent saying conditions are mixed and 3 percent undecided. While there have been pluralities saying the U.S. is on the wrong track in four of the previous five WSJ/NBC polls during Obama's presidency, this is the first time the number broke 50 percent. The one month where that was not true was April when 43 percent said things were on the right track and an equal number said they were going in the opposite direction.
President Obama's job approval rating stands at 51 percent, the same number it had been during the previous two months.
But the approval ratio for his handling of the economy has dipped from 51 in September to 47 percent in October. Forty-nine percent are very dissatisfied with the state of the economy and another 31 percent are somewhat dissatisfied. Seventeen percent are somewhat satisfied and only 2 percent are very satisfied.
Fifty-eight percent say there is "still a ways to go" before the economy hits bottom, while 29 percent believe the economy has bottomed out. But a plurality - 42 percent - believe things will get better in the next 12 months compared to 33 percent who say they will stay the same and 22 percent who predict things will be worse. Sixty-three percent believe that current conditions are due to factors Obama inherited while 20 percent say he is responsible for them.
Sixty-four percent don't see the improvement in the stock market as real evidence the economy is improving.
Ironically, given questions about his experience on foreign affairs during the presidential campaign, the public approves of his handling of this area by 51 percent to 39 percent with 10 percent undecided.
Sixty-five percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing compared to 24 percent who approve with 11 percent undecided. Fifty-six percent have a very or somewhat positive view of Obama (this is a different metric than job approval) while 33 percent are in the negative camp. Americans see the Democratic Party positively by a 42 percent to 36 percent margin with 20 percent declaring themselves neutral, while the Republican Party is regarded negatively by 46 percent to 25 percent with 27 percent being neutral. Fourteen percent see the Democrats "very positively" while only 6 say the same about the GOP.
Fifty-seven percent say the partisan atmosphere in Washington is equally the fault of both parties while 24 percent blame the Republicans and 17 percent finger the Democrats. The numbers are about the same for the public's view of partisan wrangling on health care.
Overall, Americans say by 46 percent to 38 percent that they want Congress to still be in Democratic hands after next year's elections. Sixteen percent are undecided. Forty-nine percent say, that in their own districts, they'd like to see a new face, while 41 percent say their representative deserves to be elected. But those findings need to be taken with a grain of salt given the re-election rate for incumbents.
On health care, 42 percent say the reform plan Obama is pushing is a bad idea, 38 percent say it's a good idea and 16 percent have no opinion, with another 4 percent unsure. That's about the same as last month. But even though a plurality of those polled believe the cost of their health care will go up under an overhaul of the system, 45 percent say it is better to pass his plan compared to 39 percent who disagree.
Forty-eight percent disapprove Obama's handling of the health care issue while 43 percent approve with 9 percent undecided, a ratio that has grown more negative since last month. But Republicans can take no solace in that because 64 percent disapprove of their performance on the issue compared to 23 percent who approve and 13 percent who are undecided. Those are about the same numbers that the poll found last month.
On Afghanistan, Americans support a troop increase by 47 percent to 43 percent with 10 percent undecided. Last month, they opposed it by 51 percent to 44 percent with 5 percent undecided.
However, when asked about specifics about increasing the number of troops, Americans oppose by 49 percent to 43 percent sending as many as 40,000 additional soldiers as requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan. If the number of troops was 10,000, 55 percent would support the increase compared to 36 percent who would find it unacceptable. The public divides at 45 percent each on the option of withdrawing nearly all troops and using Predator drones and special forces to attack al Qaeda camps.
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