It has been a rough week for President Barack Obama.
The prospect of the United States being dragged back into Iraq, a war the president thought he had ended, has spurred criticism on both sides and presents yet another foreign-policy complication that threatens his presidency.
Foreign hotspots — from Iraq to Syria to Ukraine — have tested Mr. Obama and taken a toll on his standing. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.pdf) this week found him with the lowest foreign policy approval of his presidency — just 37 percent. His approval is down from 52 percent in Dec. 2012 right after he was re-elected.
The president finds himself in a difficult spot. He’ll get blamed for problems around the world, even ones with no tidy solutions. But there’s little indication war-weary Americans want the U.S., and specifically American troops, to do much about them.
But even bigger than just foreign policy, the NBC/WSJ poll also found Obama’s presidency on the edge–if not worse.
His approval rating of 41 percent is an all-time low for the president in the poll. What’s worse, Americans say they don’t have confidence in his ability to lead — 54 percent say he can’t lead and get the job done, including 61 percent of independents. And they even find him and his administration LESS competent than George W. Bush’s after Hurricane Katrina — 50 percent say Obama and his administration are not very competent, four percentage points worse the Bush administration in March 2006.
Those numbers and more led political watcher Charlie Cook to conclude that voters may have simply tuned out Mr. Obama.
“There was a point when voters hit the mute button and stopped listening to George H.W. Bush and then to his son George W. Bush,” Cook writes. “We now seem to have reached that point with Obama. Voters have thrown up their hands and lost hope that things will get any better.”
So what might it mean or not mean for the midterm elections, in which Republicans appear close to retaking control of the Senate? The NBC/WSJ poll, for one, presents a cloudy picture. No one came out looking very good in the poll.
Just 29 percent view the Republican Party favorably. Democrats are marginally better at 36 percent. And after Virginia congressman Eric Cantor’s loss to a tea party opponent and ahead of Tuesday’s Mississippi primary, in which incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran is in a fight for his political life against his own tea party opponent, a record 40 percent of Americans think the tea party has too much influence on the GOP.
Obama’s approval certainly doesn’t help Democrats, especially in the red states where much of this election is being fought. An NPR poll finds Obama’s approval at just 38 percent in 12 states with competitive Senate races.
But if views of the president are already baked in, and Democrats are still leading in some key places, Obama’s coattails might not be as bad as history shows. As FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten wrote Wednesday, “What we’re left with is two unpopular entities — Obama and Congress — somewhat offsetting each other, leading to a national environment…in which neither party has that great of an edge.”