Repeated, protracted, bitter fights with Congressional Republicans are Obama’s only hope.

Recent survey results have shown that President Obama’s bungling (the economy, Obamacare, it doesn’t matter) has started to change the partisan architecture. A couple of quick points from the most recent NBC News/Wall St. Journal* data:

✓ President Obama’s job approval has settled in the low-to-mid 40s; the latest NBC News/WSJ survey pegs it at 43%. This result is steady with late November’s 42% and the two-week average. There is a ton of data that shows that the party that holds the White House loses BIG in mid-term cycles when the president’s job approval is under 50%.

✓ The president’s base of hard-core supporters is shrinking. The number of those feeling strongly positive toward the president has shrunk almost every month since Election Day; these voters once totaled 34% of the electorate but are now down to just above two-in-ten voters (22%). If this trend continues, it will be a mid-term gap-closer, with less than anticipated Democratic turnout.

✓ By a 39% (approve) to 58% (disapprove) margin, voters are not happy with the way President Obama has handled the economy. This is only three points off his WORST EVER rating measured in August ‘11.

✓ By a 50%-34% margin, Americans believe Obamacare was a bad idea.

The net effect has been that by double-digits (36%-26%) Americans now think the Republican Party does a better job of handling the economy. AND, a plurality of Americans now prefer a Republican Congress (44%-42%). Importantly, this is only the fourth time since ‘08 that the NBC News/WSJ survey has measured such a result.

Nothing but happy news for the GOP, right? Not so fast: the GOP still has an overwhelmingly upside-down image (26% positive – 51% negative) – only a scant improvement over the shutdown’s low water mark. Note: the realignment to date has come by way of the president’s failings over any GOP groundswell.

These numbers also tell us that the president and his allies in Congress have few cards left to play. Once the White House figures out that foreign treaties and travel – mainstays of any presidential second term – are netting the Democrats little, they will return to one of the few things they have left: doing whatever it takes to stage battles with an unpopular GOP Congress.

*The poll was conducted jointly December 4-8, 2013, by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates; however, this analysis was written independently of NBC/WSJ and of Hart Research Associates.

Public Opinion Strategies