The public's confidence in President Obama has fallen steadily in the error-prone first year of his second term, bracketed by a weak economy and his retreat on vows ranging from a missile attack against Syria to allowing Americans to keep their health plans.
The president defended his health care plan in Boston Wednesday, as polls show a continued erosion in his popularity. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Wednesday showed that 42 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Obama's job performance, down 5 points from a poll conducted in early October. The president's disapproval rating stands at 51 percent, tying an all-time high.
Dan Judy of North Star Opinion Research, a Republican polling firm, said the weak economy is "the biggest millstone around his neck" but added that administration scandals also are undermining the public's confidence in the president.
"There's been a crisis of competency that's really coming out in the second term, with the scandals in the IRS, the NSA, and now Obamacare, which is the nightmare we all predicted it would be," Mr. Judy said. "It's really all of the above."
Addressing the latest blow to his credibility, Mr. Obama said critics are "grossly misleading" the public by accusing him of breaking his promise that consumers could keep their current health care plans under Obamacare. At least 2 million people have received cancellation notices from their insurers, in spite of Mr. Obama's repeated promise that "if you like your plan, you can keep it."
The president didn't reiterate that line in Boston, instead claiming that he has been telling people "the truth" — that they could keep only policies that were in effect before the law was enacted in 2010.
"Now if you had one of these substandard plans before the Affordable Care Act became law and you really liked that plan, you were able to keep it — that's what I said when I was running for office," Mr. Obama said in a speech at historic Faneuil Hall. "That was part of the promise we made."
There are innumerable examples of Mr. Obama telling audiences over the past five years simply that people could keep their insurance plans "no matter what," without offering any caveats.
Mr. Obama said the cancellation notices are good news because those insurance policies were "cut-rate plans that don't offer real financial protection in the event of a serious illness or an accident."
"So if you're getting one of these letters, just shop around in the new marketplace. That's what it's for," Mr. Obama said.
The law requires insurers to provide a minimum of 10 covered items, such as maternity care and mental health services. Many consumers who are receiving cancellation notices say coverage in the government-run health care exchanges is costing much more than their previous policies, in some cases up to 10 times more.
The president accused critics of not telling the whole story about the benefits of his program.
"Anyone peddling the notion that insurers are canceling peoples' plan without mentioning that almost all the insurers are encouraging people to join better plans with the same carrier and stronger benefits and stronger protections while others will be able to get better plans with new carriers through the marketplace, and that many will get new help to pay for these better plans and make them actually cheaper. If you leave that stuff out, you're being grossly misleading, to say the least," he said.
The controversy is just the latest to affect public confidence in the president's handling of his job. The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows that Mr. Obama's approval rating, which stood at a high of about 54 percent at Christmastime, dropped to 44.9 percent as of Tuesday.
In December, after his re-election, the president's favorable rating was 12 percentage points higher than his unfavorable rating. By this week, however, that advantage has flipped — Mr. Obama's unfavorable rating is now 6 points higher than his favorable numbers, a wrong-way swing of 18 points.
"The president's approval ratings have everything to do with how confident people feel about the direction the country's heading," said Sean Gibbons, vice president at the Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington. "If the economy was growing at 3 percent or better, then his poll numbers would probably be quite a bit higher. Our growth is fairly anemic."
Mr. Obama's fortunes have reached a point this week where his Obamacare promise that "you can keep your plan if you like it" is being compared to President George H.W. Bush's breaking his "read my lips: no new taxes" pledge in 1990. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll Tuesday pointed to more potential problems, with 37 percent of respondents saying that the Obamacare website woes can be fixed, while 31 percent believe they point to a longer-term issues with the law's design that can't be corrected.
Another 30 percent believe it's too soon to say.
The tipping point for the president was in June, when an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed the damage caused by a trio of scandals: the administration's inadequate response to the deaths of four Americans in a terrorist attack at the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya; the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups, and the Justice Department's seizure of journalists' phone records. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed say the Benghazi and Justice Department scandals raised doubts about "the overall honesty and integrity of the Obama administration," while 55 percent said the same about the IRS targeting.
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