By Steven Thomma
---- — WASHINGTON — If President Barack Obama had piled up political capital with his impressive re-election, it’s largely gone.
His approval rating has dropped to the lowest level in more than a year, with more voters now turning thumbs down on his performance than thumbs up, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll. The measure of how much people like him also has dropped.
He’s still vastly more popular than Congress, particularly congressional Republicans. But in the biggest political clash of the year — over the federal budget and how to curb deficits — voters split 44 percent to 42 percent between preferring Congress or Obama.
At least some of the president’s fall to Earth lies in the fact that voters no longer see him in the context of an election. He has to stand alone in the eyes of voters again and doesn’t benefit from the comparison with Republican rival Mitt Romney.
“You remove the electoral context and post-election celebration, and some of the numbers are returning to the dissatisfaction people had,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll.
“Any glow from his re-election is starting to fade,” he said.
The national survey, conducted four months after Obama was re-elected with 51 percent of the popular vote, found 45 percent of voters approving of the way he’s handling his job and 48 percent disapproving.
That was down from a 50 percent approval rating in November and December, and the lowest since November 2011. It also was the first time that more people disapproved of his work than approved since November 2011, when his rating was 43 percent to 50 percent.
Obama’s personal popularity also has declined, with 48 percent of voters having favorable impressions of him and 48 percent having unfavorable impressions. That was down from 53 percent to 44 percent in December. It also was the lowest since November 2011, when it was 47 percent to 49 percent.
Another factor in the president’s decline is anxiety about the economy and the country.
Just 34 percent of voters think the country is heading in the right direction, while 62 percent think it’s headed the wrong way. That’s also the worst since November 2011.
Indeed, despite gains in jobs and the stock markets, voters think by 62 percent to 34 percent that the country is still in a recession. Just 22 percent think they will be better off in the coming year, while 41 percent think they’ll be about the same and 36 percent think they will be worse off.
“This may be the downside of him coming out of the box stronger in the second term,” Miringoff said.
“People are now looking for him to lead us out of this stalemate, provide more leadership. People see him as a strong figure and in the driver’s seat. During the election, it was him versus Romney. Now it’s him versus people’s expectations for the country.”
Obama still outpaces Congress by a large margin.
Just 26 percent of voters approve of the way that congressional Republicans are doing their job, while 68 percent disapprove. Even Republican voters are wary of their party, with 50 percent of them approving and 44 percent disapproving.
Congressional Democrats fare a little better, with 31 percent approving and 62 percent disapproving.