At a time of deepening political disaffection and intensified distress about the economy, President Obama enjoys an edge over Republicans in the battle for public support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
While the president is showing signs of vulnerability on his handling of the economy — a majority of respondents say he has yet to offer a clear plan for creating jobs — Americans blame former President George W. Bush, Wall Street and Congress much more than they do Mr. Obama for the nation’s economic problems and the budget deficit, the poll found.
They credit Mr. Obama more than Republicans with making an effort at bipartisanship, and they back the White House’s policies on a variety of disputed issues, including allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military and repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
To be sure, the public is deeply dissatisfied and pessimistic when it comes to just about everyone and everything. A 62% majority believe the country is on the wrong track — the highest number in a year. Congress’ approval rating is down to 15%, its lowest support in two years. Anti-incumbent attitudes are at their highest level since 1994.
But it’s worth paying close attention to who, exactly, Americans blame for the nation’s troubles. Asked who’s chiefly responsible for the weak economy, a 31% plurality blame Bush. The next closest is Wall Street, at 24%. Just 7% blame the Obama administration.
Similarly, asked who’s responsible for the budget mess, 41% blame Bush, while only 7% blame Obama.
This matters. Americans are obviously unsatisfied with the speed with which the president is cleaning up the messes he inherited — Obama’s approval rating is down to 46% — but the public at least seems to realize that he didn’t create the mess.
What’s more, as discouraging as the numbers are for the White House, they’re worse for Republicans. Americans still prefer Democrats on most issues, still think Republicans aren’t compromising enough, still think Dems are stronger when it comes to understanding the problems of regular people, and still think the GOP is worse at proposing solutions to problems.
And of particular interest, when asked whether the Senate should be able to pass legislation by majority rule, 50% want to see the chamber change the way it operates. It’s a start.