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Latest polls carry warnings for Republicans, Democrats

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 1:00 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — The latest polling on President Barack Obama and his signature health care reform law provides a raft of bad news for the White House and Democrats, but a strong cautionary note for Republicans as well: The public disapproves of what Obama has done, but doesn’t support the GOP’s alternative.

First the bad news for Obama: The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows the public by 55 percent-42 percent disapproves of his performance in office. By 63 percent-33 percent, Americans disapprove of his handling of the health care law.

Perhaps even more ominously for the president, by 52 percent-46 percent, the public now has an unfavorable view of Obama, himself. In the past, even when the public has soured on Obama’s performance in office, a majority has liked him personally. Now, however, by 51 percent-47 percent those surveyed say Obama does not “understand the problems of people like you” and by 50 percent-47 percent, they do not see him as “honest and trustworthy.”

Across the board, those ratings — and others equally troubling for the White House — have fallen in the last few weeks as Obama and his aides have struggled with the launch of the health care law.

But the counterpoint comes from a newly released National Journal Congressional Connection survey that, like the Post/ABC poll, was taken Thursday through Sunday.

The National Journal poll shows that despite all the problems of the health care rollout, fewer than 1 in 4 Americans support repeal of the law. Even more strikingly, the percentage backing repeal has not grown by a statistically significant amount since the summer.

Repeal has been the steady, repeated demand of congressional Republicans, and the poll shows ample reasons why: Among self-identified Republicans, nearly 3 out of 4 respondents supported repeal. But among self-identified independents, a group that is otherwise quite skeptical of the law, only 4 in 10 back repeal. Democrats overwhelmingly oppose that idea.

Taken together, the two polls reaffirm a key point about the electorate that both parties tend to forget, to their detriment: A large bloc of Americans takes a relatively non-ideological, pragmatic approach to politics and government. They like to see accomplishments, they judge politicians by a relatively straightforward standard of results and they mistrust sudden shifts of course in either direction. That, of course, puts those Americans at odds with the more ideologically oriented voters who form the bedrock supporters of both parties.

For the health care law, the poll results suggest the issue will weigh down Obama and Democrats in general so long as the public sees the law as failing to work. But the reverse may also prove true: If the White House can get the law’s problems fixed, they have a chance to recover, so long as Republicans stick strictly to a message of repeal, which their core supporters insist on, but which the wider public rejects.

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