Discuss as:

First thoughts: Business as usual

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Business as usual: We're soon coming up on the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama's presidential win. And one of the messages he used during the two-year campaign -- with much success -- was that he stood for changing the ways of Washington. But a year later, according to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, Washington is about as unpopular as it ever was. In the survey, just 23% say they trust government, which is the lowest number on this question in 12 years. What's more, nearly half of respondents (46%) support building an independent political party to compete with the Democrats and Republicans. And nearly six in 10 (57%) blame both Ds and Rs for the partisanship in Washington; 24% blame only the Republicans and 17% blame the Democrats. "I was hoping that business as usual was going to stop with the Obama administration," said poll respondent Brian Gross of Poolesville, MD, "and so far I just haven't seen that." As we've asked before: Does the president need to do something symbolic to show he's trying to change the D.C. culture? Maybe veto a bill with earmarks?

*** Obama, The Man vs. Obama, The President: President Obama hasn't been immune to this anger at Washington, although he remains the most popular politician in the poll. His job-approval rating remains at 51% for a third-straight survey, 56% have a favorable view of him, and a combined 74% say they like him personally. Indeed, our poll -- which measured the president on 16 different attributes -- makes it clear that the public likes Obama the man much more than Obama the president. His high scores on personal qualities (such as being easygoing and likeable, being inspirational and exciting, improving America's image around the world, etc.) averaged in the low 60s. But his grades on professional attributes (being a good commander-in-chief, uniting the country, changing business as usual in Washington, and achieving his goals) averaged in the low 40s. In fact, just 38% gave him high marks for uniting the country, which is a 32-point drop (!!!) from our January 2009 poll. To borrow that line from the '80s, "Where's the beef?" The potentially good news here for Obama is that he has time to boost his professional scores, especially if/when health care passes.

*** A tipping point? But it's as if Obama is at a tipping point right now. So far, his personal ratings have held up, and the public has only taken it out on him professionally. The more pessimistic the country gets the more likely he'll see erosion on those personal qualities. Then again, his strong personal ratings give him some latitude and provide an opportunity to improve the professional scores. A signed health care bill, a decision on Afghanistan, progress on the jobs front are all events that could move the numbers. Another thing: If you were trying to find words to describe our NBC/WSJ poll, you might choose "unstable stability." The numbers are pretty stable, but the public is feeling anything but…

*** Time to resurrect that dog food metaphor? While impressions of Obama's professional performance are mixed, the same can't be said of the Republican Party at large. Put simply, the GOP's brand is still a mess. According to the poll, just 25% have a positive opinion of the party (compared with 42% for the Dem Party), which ties the GOP's low-water mark in the survey and which is a worse score than it ever had during the Bush presidency. (Honest question: Can the party still blame Bush for their problems if their numbers have gotten lower since he left the scene?) In addition, only 23% approve of the way in which congressional Republicans have handled health care (compared with 43% for Obama). And looking ahead to the 2010 midterms, 46% prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 38% who want a GOP-controlled Congress. Last month, Dems held a 43%-40% advantage. Also, don't miss this: Despite being out of office and (relatively) out of the news, Sarah Palin's fav/unfav in our poll has dropped from 32%-43% in July to 27%-46% now. In fact, her numbers now are nearly identical to Nancy Pelosi's (26%-42%). By the way, both Palin and Pelosi are more popular than the Republican Party.

*** On Afghanistan: Today's big headlines are out of Afghanistan, where NBC's Brian Williams has been reporting from for past couple of days. One, October has been the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the country. Two, several U.N. workers were killed in Kabul after an early morning attack by the Taliban. So what are Americans views on Afghanistan? Per our poll, by a 47%-44% margin, respondents support increasing the troop level there, which is a reversal from last month, when 51% opposed an increase and 44% supported it. Also, as Republicans criticize Obama for waiting to announce his troop decision -- Dick Cheney recently said the president was "dithering" -- almost six in 10 (58%) say they support delaying a decision until after Afghanistan's run-off election on Nov. 7. And when presented with four different approaches to Afghanistan, the most acceptable (at 55%) was sending 10,000 more troops to the country, while the least acceptable (at 43%) was Gen. McChrystal's recommendation of 40,000 more troops. To put it another way, it's more acceptable to Americans to send more troops (10,00 in this case) than not sending ANY more troops. This finding also was noteworthy: 62% said they had more confidence in the generals on the ground to make the right decisions on military strategy, versus 25% who said they had more confidence in the president.

*** On health care: The NBC/WSJ poll also shows that opinions on the health-care debate haven't changed much over the past month. Only 38% percent believe that Obama's health plan is a good idea, compared with 42% who said it's a bad idea, which is virtually identical to last month's score. But what has changed -- slightly (and within the margin of error) -- is the opposition to a public option. Last month's poll found that Americans OPPOSED it by a 48%-46% margin. But now they SUPPORT it by a 48%-42% score.

*** More pro-gay, more pro-life, and more pro-gun: Besides all these numbers, perhaps the most interesting findings in the NBC/WSJ come on a series of questions about social issues. On the one hand, the percentage of respondents believing that abortion decisions should be left to a woman and her doctor has dropped from 55% in 2007 to 51% now. On the other hand, the opposition to gay marriage also has dropped, from 62% opposed in 2004 to 49% now. And also decreasing is the public's support for gun-control measures. In 1991, three-quarters of Americans supported banning the sale of assault weapons and semiautomatic rifles. Yet this past April, 53% favored it, and in this new poll 49% say they support the ban. So as much as we in the media and both parties try to fit Americans into neat red-blue boxes on social issues, it isn't that easy.

*** Have Republicans found their Ned Lamont? With Joe Lieberman back in the news, here's a question we pose to folks: Has conservative Doug Hoffman in that NY-23 special congressional election become the GOP's Ned Lamont? Well, supporting Hoffman over the more moderate GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava certainly has become a Republican litmus test of sorts for 2012, much like supporting Lamont over Lieberman was back in '06. The only difference to us is how FAST Republican politicians like Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty have backed Hoffman. Remember that the Democratic establishment (including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) didn't start supporting Lamont until after he had won the Democratic nomination over Lieberman in that 2006 Senate contest. RNC Chair Michael Steele said on "Morning Joe" that he was supporting the Republican candidate in the race, Scozzafava.

*** Holding your nose while voting in NJ: In the latest Quinnipiac poll measuring the New Jersey gubernatorial contest, Jon Corzine's (D) lead over Chris Christie (R) has narrowly increased from 41%-40% to 43%-38%, but that's margin of error movement. Chris Daggett, meanwhile, remains in the low teens (13%). Now among Daggett supporters, 43% of them say Christie's their second choice, while 27% picked Corzine. Other polls have had this breakdown differently. Christie's fav/unfav is still upside down at 37%-42%; Corzine's is a tad worse, 41%-52%; and Daggett sports the ONLY net positive rating at 21%-16%. By the way, Corzine's job rating is UNDER 40 -- at 39%. The state legislature in the state has an even LOWER approval rating at 26% (will that translate to down ballot churn?) Now, here's the best explanation in this poll why Corzine's ahead. He's got a net positive rating on the question of being honest and trustworthy (46%-44%), while Christie has a net NEGATIVE rating on this question, 37%-39%.

*** Obama's day: At 11:00 am ET, President Obama delivers the Congressional Gold Medal to former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke (R). At 2:10 pm, the president signs the National Defense Authorization Act into law. And then at 6:05 pm, he delivers remarks at an event commemorating the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 6 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 41 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 83 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 370 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails. 
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter.