All around, there are Democrats telling us their prospects for November are looking up. Things aren't as bad as Republicans say! Health care is becoming more popular! The country wants financial reform! People still like Barack Obama! Isn't Joe Barton awful?!
They're fooling themselves. The basic indicators of voters' intentions -- their general mood and attitude toward the policies of Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid -- are clear and solid. Unless those indicators change, and most experts believe that would take a huge, unforeseen event that fundamentally alters the political equation, Democrats are in for serious losses this November. The only question is whether those losses will be big enough for them to lose their huge majorities in the House and Senate. Even if they're not, the party will be badly weakened in the next Congress.
The latest evidence is a new survey from pollsters Peter Hart and Bill McInturff for the Wall Street Journal and NBC. The number of people who say the country is headed in the wrong direction is 62 percent -- the highest it has been since the final days of George W. Bush. The troubled economy, of course, is the most important issue, and 66 percent say they expect the economy to stay the same or get worse in the next year.
"There is a sense across the board that things aren't working," says Republican pollster David Winston.
Obama's approval rating is at 45 percent, versus 48 percent disapproval -- the first time the president has ever been underwater in the Journal poll. (By way of contrast, the president's approval rating was 61 percent in April 2009, his high point in the Journal poll.)
People are not happy about the way Obama is handling the economy, with 50 percent disapproving compared to 46 percent approving. He's also being hurt by the gulf oil spill. Fifty percent in the survey disapprove of his handling of the crisis, compared to 42 percent who approve. That's not much better than George W. Bush's rating for handling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which was 53 percent disapproval, 36 percent approval six months after the storm and the media's subsequent battering of Bush.
A president's personal-approval rating is often higher than his job-performance rating. With Obama, the two are more or less the same: 47 percent personal approval versus 45 percent job approval -- neither very good.