Record Low Poll Numbers Spell Uncertain Future For Both Parties

Voters are sour on just about every leader and political institution in America. Everyone from the president to Congress is experiencing record-low ratings.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block. Americans are utterly fed up with Washington. That's the takeaway from the latest round of public opinion polls. Approval ratings for just about every leader and political institution from the president to Congress are now at record lows. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports on why and what the consequences might be.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Bill McInturff, the Republican half of The Wall Street Journal/NBC polling team calls it a public opinion shockwave. He's never seen voters express such disgust at both parties and their leaders.

BILL MCINTURFF: October was one of the most consequential months in the last 30 years in American public opinion. And the consequences are all negative. The president's job approval's hit a new low. His personal approval's turned negative for the first time. Republicans became the first political party with a 50 percent negative and every person in the Congressional leadership hit new highs in their negatives.

No one was spared. America's fed up and very tired of what happens in Washington.

LIASSON: McInturff has put together a presentation describing the president's recent troubles. It's called "President Obama And The Dreaded K-Word." That would be Katrina, the natural disaster that turned into a political disaster for President George W. Bush. Comparing Katrina to the botched rollout of Obamacare is an offensive analogy for many Democrats after all, 1800 people died during Katrina.

But, says pollster, Andy Kohut, the comparison is apt because the slump in approval ratings is almost identical.

ANDREW KOHUT: Obamacare is to President Obama as Katrina was to President Bush.

LIASSON: In the middle of their fifth year, the public concerns were growing for both presidents. In the case of President Bush, it was about Iraq. In the case of President Obama, it was about the economy.

KOHUT: And then, boom, for both presidents, something comes along which drives home growing doubts about competency.

LIASSON: President Obama's job approval ratings have bounced up and down before, but his strong personal ratings always kept him afloat. Now, for the first time, those have slumped, too, with majorities saying they don't believe he is honest, trustworthy or a strong leader. Bill McInturff says that kind of damage is hard to repair.

MCINTURFF: When you start dropping these personal dimensions, it is very difficult to improve and it takes a different set of facts and probably and difference circumstances.

LIASSON: Hold your horses, says Democrat Steve Elmendorf who calls this line of thinking apocolysm(ph) .

STEVE ELMENDORF: I've heard, you know, that we're going to lose the 2014 elections because of this and we're going to lose the 2016 elections because of this, but it just seems to me a little overwrought. Three weeks ago, we were talking about the end of the modern Republican Party because of the government shutdown and now we're talking about the end of the Obama presidency.

I think this situation is not good for Democrats or Obama, but the election is not tomorrow and it's not next week or next month.

LIASSON: The answer to the president's troubles is simple, but hard to achieve. The healthcare.gov website has to get fixed and Obamacare, by sometime next year, has to be seen as a net positive. Oh, and it would also help Democrats if the economy improved. Political analyst Stu Rothenberg says it's harder than ever to make political predictions because both parties are experiencing head-spinning reversals of fortune and they happen at a faster clip than ever before.

But for now, Rothenberg says, it's safe to say this.

STUART ROTHENBERG: The president has serious troubles now. Somehow he has pulled seeming defeat from the jaws of victory after the government shutdown and he's in real trouble. I think that's pretty important and that's pretty dramatic and that's enough for me, anyway.

LIASSON: The president's problems may not be permanent, but they are real and they really worry Democrats because midterm election results closely track presidents approval ratings. Democrats had a brief moment of optimism after the shutdown left Republicans licking their self-inflicted wounds, but Rothenberg says, that evaporated.

ROTHENBERG: We're at least back to where we were before the shutdown for the Republicans and they may, in fact, be better off because they have a new narrative. The narrative is about the administration's competence, the president's integrity, can you trust him, and when you do get something like this that shatters confidence in the president and the entire administration, I think it does leave the president in worse position.

LIASSON: So, for now, the political landscape for the short term seems to be reverting to the historical norm with the party not in the White House poised to make gains in the midterm elections. But the longer term picture is not good for either party. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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