The honeymoon is over. Political gravity brings Obama back down to earth.

Since January many people have asked me and my colleagues at Public Opinion Strategies when President Obama’s honeymoon period will be over. As pollsters we can’t predict the future and read tea-leaves, but we can read current data. The answer is, it’s happening right now.

Our latest NBC/WSJ poll* shows President Obama’s ratings dropping across the board. He is being pulled back down to earth with ratings that more closely represent a typical president and a partisan political environment. Although his personal ratings remain high – 55% of the public have a positive impression of him, 74% say he is easygoing and likeable, and 58% say he is compassionate enough to understand average people – each of these measures has declined since our last poll.

But, more importantly he has finally become embroiled in the substantive issues of the day, and on every measure the drop in public opinion is stark and telling. His overall job approval numbers have slipped from their high of 61% approve, 30% disapprove in April to 53% approve, 40% disapprove today. And, while he manages to maintain this majority approval rating importantly his ratings have slipped significantly among Whites from a net 9-point approval rating in June to a net 1-point disapproval rating today. On the key issues facing the nation less than half the public offers approval on the job he is doing – 49% approve, 44% disapprove on his handling of the economy; 41% approve, 46% disapprove on his handling of health care reform.

Further, when asked if Obama’s policies and programs are taking the country in the right direction just 35% agree, while 30% say they are taking the country in the wrong direction, and 34% have mixed feelings. And, we’ve seen almost a direct reversal of opinion since Obama took office in the level of confidence Americans have that he has the right set of goals and policies to be president.

In February, 54% said they were “extremely” or “quite” confident while 45% were “only somewhat” or “not at all” confident. Today these measures are 46% confident, 53% not confident – including a significant 30% who are not at all confident. Independents – who always erred on the side of having less confidence – have slipped even further away on this measure and now by a margin of 16 points say they are not confident he has the right policies and goals.

The public also shows us they are less trusting of this president and view him as a more partisan figure than before. In April, a majority (58%) said he could be trusted to keep his word, today that number has dropped to 48%. Also back in April, 62% of Americans said Obama was willing to work with people whose viewpoints are different from his own – including a significant 35% of Republicans. Today that has dropped to 49% overall and a more partisan rating of just 16% among Republicans.

But, it’s not just the partisan landscape the President needs to worry about, it’s the potential schism in his own party that’s being brought to bear in the health care and energy policy debates. Blue Dog Democrats (defined in this poll as White moderate and conservative Democrats) part ways with him on several measures and just 46% (compared to 73% of all other Democrats) think his policies are taking the country in the right direction.

Up until now Obama’s seeming ability to operate above the fray of “politics as usual” has prevailed, but those days are over. It’s back to earth with a bump as reality sets in.

*National survey of 1,011 adults conducted July 24-27, 2009
(Public Opinion Strategies partners with Peter D. Hart Research Associates to conduct the NBC/WSJ polls. Neither Peter D. Hart Research Associates nor NBC/WSJ are responsible for these conclusions.)



Public Opinion Strategies