RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A new survey by our bipartisan team of pollsters shows that President Obama's job approval rating is still high, and among likely voters in our survey the Democratic position on issues was favored across the board. Still, there's some reason for Republicans to hope. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.
MARA LIASSON: This was our first survey since the election and Republican pollster Glenn Bolger and Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg found that a lot has changed. Despite a major economic crisis, far fewer voters think the country is on the wrong track than before the election. That means people, relatively speaking, are happier with their leaders in Washington. But when asked whether they'd vote for the Republican or Democratic congressional candidate if the 2010 elections were held today, the result was a tie, 42-42. Republican Glenn Bolger…
Mr. GLENN BOLGER (Republican Pollster): There's concern about, you know, the spending plans and other paths that Obama and Democrats in Congress are taking, so I think you're seeing a little bit more move towards a balance. Again, people still want the president to succeed. He's got a 59 percent approval rating. He has a lot of intensity, particularly from his base, but that doesn't mean that people want one side to have a blank check.
LIASSON: Historically, the party that holds the White House and Congress looses seats in mid-term elections, but Democrat Stan Greenberg points to other findings in our survey.
Mr. STAN GREENBERG (Democratic Pollster): Everything else in this poll points towards much more dramatic shifts toward the Democrats. On all of the arguments we've looked at in the survey, on virtually every single question, Democrats enjoy about a 10 to 12 point advantage.
LIASSON: When asked to compare Democratic and Republican positions on health care, energy, the deficit, taxes, the stimulus package, and the president's budget, Democrats came out ahead across the board. Glenn Bolger…
Mr. BOLGER: That means Republicans still have their work cut out for us. You know, we have…
Mr. GREENBERG: It means the Democrats are, you know, are dominating the issue debate before the country. As we're going into these big debates about the direction of the country, we have the Democrats with a, you know, consistent advantage on, you know, ideas, and this is above partisanship; this is twice the party I.D. advantage.
LIASSON: On party I.D., the number of likely voters identifying themselves as Democrats is six points ahead of Republicans, not nearly as big a spread as during the election or in the actual voting for House seats. Then there's the president's job approval rating, a healthy 59 percent, and 56 percent on handling the economy. It is down from the mid-60s, but it's just about where the last four presidents have been at this point in their terms. Still, inside the Obama approval rating you can find data heartening to Republicans who have been waiting a long time for some good news, and Glenn Bolger is one of them.
Mr. BOLGER: What I find encouraging is that in this survey he's under 50 percent approval among independent voters. I thought that, you know, given his rock star status, that he was going to be stronger longer with independents. But independents are becoming a little bit more skeptical. They haven't turned on him by any stretch, but you know, he's not up on the pedestal among independents like he had been right after the election and right around the inauguration.
LIASSON: One such independent is Paul Pease from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania.
Mr. PAUL PEASE (Independent): Well, he's definitely doing something different than he led us to believe. The hope was that he would, you know, use the left to get elected and then become a centrist, but he definitely is not a centrist and I think the direction he's going is not helping us.
LIASSON: It's still an open question just when independent voters may begin blaming President Obama for the economy. Independent Jean Drusko of Titusville, Pennsylvania echoes the president's complaint that he inherited a big mess.
Ms. JEAN DRUSKO (Independent): When he made a lot of those promises, he didn't have this big economy thing hanging over his head. I mean he's got an emergency, and I think he's got to take care of that emergency or none of it's going to be worth anything.
LIASSON: But Glenn Bolger is so confident the downward drift in the president's approval ratings will continue, he's willing to put money on it.
Mr. BOLGER: Stan, what do you want to bet on the - I'll bet that he's under 50 in two months on this.
Mr. GREENBERG: On economy or…
Mr. BOLGER: Yeah.
Mr. GREENBERG: …approval?
Mr. BOLGER: No, on economy. What do you say, 20 bucks?
Mr. GREENBERG: Sure.
Mr. BOLGER: Okay.
Mr. GREENBERG: Can we do that on the air?
LIASSON: You bet.
Mr. BOLGER: Okay.
LIASSON: That's all you're willing to bet Stan, 20 bucks?
Mr. GREENBERG: That's all.
LIASSON: I thought you were going to raise it.
Mr. BOLGER: Well, the economy is kind of bad right now, so - and look, you can't say people don't pay attention to the news when nobody rates it as excellent.
LIASSON: Indeed, not a single person in our survey described the state of the economy as excellent. Three percent said it was good, 30 percent said not so good, and 66 percent called it poor. On that much at least, all parties can agree.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
MONTAGNE: And you can read all the details of that poll's results at npr.org.