JIM LEHRER: Two new polls released today show Democrats in deep trouble, with November's midterm elections less than two months away. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: The polls paint a grim picture for the president and congressional Democrats.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post survey, 46 percent of the country approves of the job Mr. Obama is doing as president, while 52 percent disapproves. In the fight for control of Congress, meanwhile, Republicans hold a 53-40 advantage among those most interested in voting this fall.
A separate NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, meanwhile, showed 61 percent of Americans thinks the country is on the wrong track, while just 30 percent says it's headed in the right direction. That survey also shows that the country has grown increasingly pessimistic about the chances the economy will improve in the next 12 months. About a quarter believe it will get better, a sharp drop from 47 percent who felt that way this time last year.
As part of the president's effort to turn that number around, he plans to unveil tomorrow in Cleveland a proposal to allow businesses to write off 100 percent of new capital investments through the end of next year. Administration officials say it could save businesses $200 billion over the next two years.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the plan wasn't simply an election-year strategy.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: This is about long-term economic growth. This isn't about the next 60 days or the next 90 days. This is about, how do we get our economy fully back on track, how do we get the millions that want to work back to work, and how do we repair the economic damage that's been going on, not just over the past two years, but over the past 10 years?
KWAME HOLMAN: But House Republican Leader John Boehner dismissed the proposal.
In a statement Boehner said: "The White House is missing the big picture. None of its plans address the two big problems that are hurting our economy, excessive government spending and the uncertainty that their policies, especially the massive tax hike they have planned for January 1, is creating for small businesses."
That was a reference to the coming battle over whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts, especially those for high-wage earners. It's likely to lead to another election-year showdown between Republicans and Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: And to NewsHour political editor David Chalian. David, the -- the poll questions about who do you trust about the economy are most interesting, are they not?
DAVID CHALIAN: Oh, without a doubt, Jim, because, as you know, when you look at polls, the numbers tell you something, but, more importantly, the trends tell you the story. Take a look. When voters are asked which party do you trust more to handle the economy, which, as you know, is the number-one issue, today, 42 percent say the Democrats, 40 percent say the Republicans. They're basically splitting that vote.
But look at where it was just a month ago in July. Republicans, only 34 percent of Americans said that they trusted them. They increased six points in trust to handle the most important issue in just a month. That -- and that is a trend that has been going now for about a year now, that Democrats are losing ground on that key trust on the major number-one issue.
JIM LEHRER: And when -- when they are asked and when -- read those polls correctly -- when they say Democrats, they mean President Obama and his administration, but they also mean members of Congress as well, right? It is -- it is seen as one big blob there, right, one side?
DAVID CHALIAN: One big blob is right. I mean, you cannot -- they're inextricably linked. President Obama and the congressional Democrats up on the Hill are really married here. And President Obama has made that case and his advisers have made that case to Democrats up on Capitol Hill, saying, you know, our fortunes are tied to your fortunes.
When they were trying to get health care passed, when they were trying to get their agenda through, they said, don't run away from us yet. Now, we're eight weeks away from Election Day.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
DAVID CHALIAN: You see a lot of Democrats in very tough districts really starting to put distance between themselves and the national Democrats, President Obama, Speaker Pelosi.
JIM LEHRER: And you also believe that you -- looking at -- look further at those polls about dissatisfaction with government. There's stuff in there that needs to be noted as well, correct?
DAVID CHALIAN: You and I have looked all year long at sort of this volatility, almost anger, actually, that exists inside the electorate. Take a look at these numbers, because this is fascinating when you look at it through history. Today, 78 percent of respondents say they are dissatisfied or angry with government and how government works, vs. 22 percent who are satisfied or enthusiastic.
Compare that, Jim, to November 1994. You remember, Bill Clinton was president, Newt Gingrich, the Republican revolution and the takeover of the House of Representatives. You are seeing more dissatisfaction and anger in the electorate now than you did when Republicans won 54 seats and took over the House.
JIM LEHRER: Now, these two words, dissatisfaction and anger, parse those for us.
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, the way pollsters ask the question, they -- it's...
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
DAVID CHALIAN: You have four different options. Are you dissatisfied, satisfied, angry, enthusiastic? It's sort of the spectrum. And so they combine dissatisfaction and anger.
And -- but let me tell you, when you separate it out, and you look just at the anger, this is where you see the intensity gap. This is actually what is giving Republicans their fuel this campaign season, because that anger portion is growing larger and larger. And that's why, in Kwame's piece, when you saw likely voters, how they plan to vote, 53 percent say a Republican; 40 percent say a Democrat.
That 13 percent gap, Jim, is the largest since 1981, when The Washington Post and ABC News began that poll.
JIM LEHRER: And underlying that anger, of course, are some realities of unemployment, housing. All of the basic needs that people have and expect the government to take care of, they're all under there. And that's where the anger comes from, correct?
DAVID CHALIAN: Correct. And as you just pointed out in the issues you listed there, those are all economic issues, right? Housing, jobs. Sort of economic security issues is what's fueling this anger, because people aren't feeling secure in the economy right now. In fact, you saw in Kwame's piece they have such a poor outlook that only a quarter of the country believes the economy is getting better. So, they're -- they're very pessimistic about the economy.
JIM LEHRER: And there's no way, do you believe, to separate how people feel about Barack Obama vs. how they -- and their anger about these economic issues and all these other things, are the two -- put them together.
DAVID CHALIAN: Sure. Well, take a look on this notion, because we asked people, we asked voters, do you want to vote for a Democrat this year because you want to support Barack Obama's agenda or do you want to vote for a Republican and you want Republicans in charge because you want him -- to have a check and a balance against President Obama?
And take a look here -- 55 percent say they want to put the Republicans in charge because they want a check against President Obama, vs. 39 percent who want the Democrats in charge to support his agenda -- again, another trend, if you look back in July there, that is growing in the Republican favor.
JIM LEHRER: And the heart of the dissatisfaction and the anger, whatever -- whatever you -- whatever it is for any given voter, about Barack Obama is, is it related directly to these issues, or are there other fringe things involved as well?
DAVID CHALIAN: I think the economy is overwhelming everything. But we were seeing for much of this year this notion that they weren't taking it out on Barack Obama, the president, quite as much as they were on congressional Democrats.
His popularity was still hanging up there. Now that's beginning to take a hit, too. Empathy. Does he share your values? Does he represent your troubles and understand your problems? Those kinds of personality questions are now starting to see -- the numbers are taking a toll on Barack Obama right now. He's coming down in that category as well.
So, people are starting to combine that it is really his fault, which is really just to say Barack Obama has been there for nearly two years. He completely owns this economy.
JIM LEHRER: David, thank you.
DAVID CHALIAN: My pleasure.