PRESIDENT’S SUPPORT STILL SOFTENING…. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll offers some discouraging news for the White House, but not all of the news was bad.

Overall, President Obama’s approval rating stands at 59%, similar to the latest results from Gallup. It’s the first time he’s slipped below the 60% plateau in this poll, but all things being equal, 59% is still fairly strong support. The president’s approval ratings on specific issue areas has slipped — his strongest support is on U.S. policy in Afghanistan, his weakest is in dealing with the budget deficit — but his leadership attributes remain high.


The president’s GOP detractors will no doubt be pleased by these results, but on some key areas, Obama is still strongly favored over Republicans. While the gaps have narrowed a bit, the president has a 23-point lead over the minority part on economic policy, a 20-point lead on health care, and a 19-point lead on the deficit. Overall, just 36% approve of how Republicans in Congress are doing their job — 11 percentage points lower than the congressional majority.

By comparison, at this point in Clinton’s first term, Republicans were far more competitive — Clinton led the GOP, for example, on the economy by just five points (45% to 40%) at this point in 1993.

Specifically on health care, poll respondents were asked, “Thinking about health care, one proposal to insure nearly everyone would require all Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty on their income tax, excluding those with lower incomes. It would require most employers to offer health coverage or pay a fee. There would be a government-run plan to compete with private insurers. And income taxes on people earning more than 280-thousand dollars a year would be raised to help fund the program. Taken together, would you support or oppose this plan? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?”

Despite the wording of the question, 54% said they support this plan as it was described. The support was higher among Democrats and independents.

Overall, it’s obvious that Obama’s support has slipped, which is not surprising. Economic conditions are still awful in much of the country; the president has not had a major legislative success story in a while; and it’s understandable that the public would start to feel anxious and impatient.

But in context, a 59% approval rating is quite strong under the circumstances, and Obama’s leads over the GOP should send a signal to policymakers about which direction the nation would prefer to go.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.