- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The euphoria of 2008 is over: America is in a funk.

Elected last November on a wave of optimism, President Obama now finds himself governing an increasingly pessimistic country emerging from recession while muscling through Congress a health care reform overhaul and weighing whether to commit more troops to the 8-year-old Afghanistan war.

The latest Associated Press/GfK Poll shows that Americans grew slightly more dispirited on a range of matters over the past month, continuing slippage that has occurred since Mr. Obama took office in January.

They were more pessimistic about the direction of the country. They disapproved of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy a bit more than before. And, perhaps most striking for this novice commander in chief, more people have lost confidence in Mr. Obama on Iraq and Afghanistan over the past month. Overall, there’s a public malaise about the state of the nation.

“It’s in pretty bad shape,” said truck driver Floyd Hacker of Granby, Mo., a Democrat who voted for Mr. Obama. “He sounded like somebody who could make things happen. I still think he can.”

Still, Mr. Hacker said, he doesn’t agree with the president’s approach to the economy, questions what the United States is trying to accomplish in Afghanistan, and isn’t sure that Mr. Obama should have spent so much time on health care, adding: “He can’t handle everything at one time.”

Public attitudes like that are troubling for a president trying to accomplish an ambitious agenda at home while fighting wars abroad, as well as for a Democratic Party heading into a critical election year in which it will look to stave off losses a new president typically experiences in his first midterms. A third of the Senate, all of the House and most governors’ offices will be on the ballot.

The findings underscore just how quickly the political environment can change, a lesson in cautiousness for out-of-power Republicans salivating at the murky state of the electorate and buzzing with energy after booting Democrats from power in Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races last week.

It was just more than a year ago that Mr. Obama won the White House in an electoral landslide and Democrats padded their congressional majorities. The country was riding high with optimism by just about all measures when Mr. Obama took office in January.

“Hope” and “change” were en vogue back then. But “change” didn’t happen overnight, as the rhetoric of campaigning crashed headlong into the realities of governing. And “hope” slipped in a country that always has clung to it.

Now, Mr. Obama’s approval rating stands at 54 percent, about the same as in October but very different from what it was in January just before he took office: 74 percent. And about 56 percent of people say the country is heading in the wrong direction, an uptick from 51 percent last month and 49 percent in Mr. Obama’s first month as president. Other number show:

*Most polled don’t approve of how Mr. Obama is handling the economy - just 46 percent approve compared with 50 percent last month.

*The country also has grown even more lukewarm on Mr. Obama and the wars as he tries to wind down the one in Iraq and considers ramping up the one in Afghanistan. Compared with October, 45 percent of people now disapprove of Mr. Obama’s handling of Iraq, up from 37 percent, while 48 percent now disapprove of his handling of Afghanistan, up from 41 percent.

*On health care, about half of the country approves of how Mr. Obama is doing on his signature domestic issue - virtually unchanged from October.

*Only a third of the country approves of how Congress is doing.

The AP/GfK Poll was conducted Thursday through Monday by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,006 adults nationwide, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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