WASHINGTON — Public disapproval of President Barack Obama's handling of health care has leaped to 52 percent, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that underscores the country's glowering mood just as the White House revs up its pitch for an overhaul.
Forty-two percent approve of the president's work on the high-profile health issue. The survey was released Wednesday, hours before his nationally televised effort to persuade Congress and voters to back his drive to reshape the nation's $2.5 trillion-a-year medical system.
Spotlighting how Obama lost ground this summer, his latest approval figures on health were essentially reversed since July, when 50 percent approved of his health effort and 43 percent disapproved.
The poll illustrates how difficult recent weeks have been for a president who, besides tackling health care, has been battling to end a devastatingly deep recession. Fifty percent approve and 49 percent disapprove of the overall job he is doing as president, compared to July, when those approving his performance clearly outnumbered those who were unhappy with it, 55 to 42 percent.
The slipping figures were an ominous sign for Obama, who by year's end wants Congress to send him legislation lowering health costs while covering millions of uninsured Americans. Besides near unanimous opposition from Republicans, the president's proposal has divided lawmakers from his own party, with liberals battling for a far-reaching plan that would include optional government-run insurance, and moderates demanding a scaled-down version without public coverage.
The poll found that discontent with Obama's health care effort is not isolated to Republicans. While nearly nine in 10 from the GOP disapproved of his handling of the issue, so did about six in 10 independents and two in 10 Democrats.
"How in the world can anybody look at this and evaluate it and see if it makes effective change?" Kelly Hoots, 35, a pharmacist and independent from Weaverville, N.C., said of the health care legislation. "Who knows what's in it?"
Further spotlighting the opposition Obama is encountering, 49 percent in the AP-GfK poll said they oppose the health overhaul plans being considered by Congress, compared to 34 percent who favor them.
People are about evenly split over what lawmakers should do next on health care: About four in 10 say they should keep trying to pass a bill this year while about the same number say they should start over again.
Significantly, though, only about two in 10 say the health care system should be left as is, a positive sign for Obama.
"It's about time" for expanded health coverage, said Randy Yarborough, 56, a retired cabinetmaker and Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Everybody ought to have it. Anybody who says we can't afford it or we shouldn't have government health care, you need to wake up."
There is a clear public desire for a bipartisan approach on health care. Eight in 10 say it's important that any plan that passes Congress have the support of both parties, with Democrats, Republicans and independents all saying so by roughly that proportion. Two-thirds say if Obama and congressional Democrats can't win support from Republicans to pass a bill this year, they should keep trying until they get it.
Obama's marks are also declining on the economy, with 52 percent saying they disapprove of how he's handled that issue. Forty-six percent disapproved in a July AP-GfK poll, and 35 percent disapproved in April.
About half disapprove of his handling of taxes, some of which may rise to help finance his health overhaul, and of unemployment, which has been on the rise. And 56 percent dislike his handling of the budget deficit, which has skyrocketed under the costs of the financial bailouts and a recession that has caused federal revenues to sink.
While 77 percent said health care is important to them, 92 percent said the same about the economy, more than any other issue in the AP-GfK poll. That suggests that despite Washington's focus on the health care struggle, few voters have taken their eyes off the recession.
"They ought to scrap the whole thing" on health care, said Republican Wendy Sanders, 39, a homemaker from Kingsland, Ga. "People need jobs. Do that."
The survey of 1,001 adults with cell and landline telephones was conducted from Sept. 3-8. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
To view an interactive video of the poll, go to http://www.apexchange.com/Content/main/2009/20090218/22/7c9bdd42d15147d18a39f3dbd3a0792f/index.html.