IS HOPE A PLAN? AT THIS POINT, IT HAS TO BE…. Apparently, when the public is feeling frustrated, dour, and pessimistic, a president’s poll numbers start to sag. With that in mind, the new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows President Obama’s approval rating down to 47%.

Driving the downward movement in Obama’s standing are renewed concerns about the economy and fresh worry about rising prices, particularly for gasoline. Despite signs of economic growth, 44 percent of Americans see the economy as getting worse, the highest percentage to say so in more than two years.

The toll on Obama is direct: 57 percent disapprove of the job the president is doing dealing with the economy, tying his highest negative rating when it comes to the issue.

The electoral news wasn’t all bad for the president. For example, no one seems especially impressed with the Republican field, and Obama leads all of them in head-to-head match-ups, most of them by double digits. For that matter, Reagan and Clinton were in similar shape at this point the year before their re-election bids.

But the key takeaway from the poll is that the gap between what the public cares about and what politicians are focusing on has become a chasm. The discourse is dominated by talk of spending cuts and deficit reduction, while Americans are focused primarily on economic growth and job creation.

What’s more, I’m not sure what, if anything, Obama can do about it. It’s way too late to start shifting the debate from the debt to the economy, and even if the White House launched an ambitious jobs policy, it wouldn’t stand a chance in Congress.

When it comes to economic policy, the best — the very best — we can hope for is a president who’ll stop Republicans from making matters worse, and maybe a reluctant Federal Reserve that might want to play a constructive role.

Otherwise, the White House has to simply hope the economy continues to improve on its own, which may very well happen, but which now appears to be out of the president’s hands.

Steve Benen

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.