Obama Approval Dropping — But Still Higher Than Reagan's

Things are a little doom-and-gloom today: Iran may have a secret nuclear facility, and a New York Times/CBS poll shows Obama's approval rating has dropped to 56%. Oh: And Americans are still totally confused about health care.

The poll, conducted from September 19-23, found 56% of respondents approve of how Obama is doing as President, while 33% disapprove. Health care emerges as a major issue — 19% of those polled thought it was the biggest problem facing America today, trailing only the economy. But just 47% approved of how Obama was handling health care, while 45% disapproved. And while 51% thought the healthcare system in America needed major changes, a majority (55% or 62%, depending on how they asked the question) felt that Obama hadn't explained his plans for change well enough. Only 21-23% (again, depending on the wording of the question) thought healthcare reform would actually help them personally.

If Obama is on shaky ground with public opinion, though, his opponents are basically standing on a volcano. Despite all the video footage of people yelling at town hall meetings, only 27% trusted Republicans more than Obama to fix health care. 52% trusted Obama more. 76% said Republicans had not laid out a clear plan for healthcare, and 64% thought they were only opposing Obama's plan for political reasons. A majority of those polled — 65% — support the public option.

Obama's numbers also aren't as bad as they look. Though his approval rating is down from 62% in February, it's still pretty strong compared to numbers posted by other presidents. Ronald Reagan was at 53% at this time in his first term, and Bill Clinton was at 43%. And his numbers on health care have enjoyed an uptick since his speech on September 9. Only 40% approved of his handling of health care in an August poll — 7 percentage points less than now.

That said, his speech didn't exactly fix the problems people are having understanding his plan — 33% thought he had explained it well enough before the speech, compared to just 37% now. Clearly Americans have not had their aha moment regarding Obama's healthcare policies — and maybe they never will. Is this because Obama is actually doing a bad job explaining things, or because health-care reform has become so complicated that no one could really explain it well? Given the numerous compromises being floated in recent weeks, and controversy over such arcana as whether public funds should be kept separate from private funds for the purposes of abortion, the latter seems likely. And misinformation is still deeply affecting Americans, three in 10 of whom still believe Obama's plan would cover illegal immigrants. Obama may not be doing the best job possible explaining healthcare reform to America, but demagogues are doing a great job of confusing us.

Of course, healthcare isn't the only issue facing the country. According to the poll, 50% approve of Obama's handling of the economy (compared to 61% in April), and 44% (the lowest ever) approve of how he's dealing with the war in Afghanistan. Given this news about Iran, perhaps the next poll will reflect that issue too.

In Poll, Public Wary Of Obama On War And Health [NYT]
New York Times/CBS News Poll: Confusion Over Health Care [NYT]