WASHINGTON — A new sheaf of opinion polls show Americans sharply divided on President Barack Obama's first year in office, as his ratings on key issues like health care and the economy hit new lows.
Polling also suggests independent voters are turning away from Obama as he nears the anniversary of his January 20 inauguration -- though in a sign of hope for his administration, he remains more popular than his policies.
In a new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, US voters were split 45-45 on whether Obama's first year was a success or failure.
When voters were asked in a CNN/Opinion Research survey published on Tuesday to rate Obama's performance since taking office, 48 percent judged it a failure, and 47 percent saw a success.
Obama's first year, after he accepted a challenging legacy from ex-president George W. Bush, has seen him battle the worst economic crisis in 70 years, juggle two wars and contend with a botched Al-Qaeda terror attack on a US airliner on Christmas Day.
A CBS News poll showed Obama's job approval rating at 46 percent, marking the first time he had polled below 50 percent in the survey.
The CNN poll meanwhile showed Obama's approval rating at 51 percent -- but that was down three points in a month.
Quinnipiac had Obama's job approval/disapproval split at 45 percent for the first time.
"President Obama's report card from the American people on his first year in office is a mixed one," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"He gets better grades on his personal qualities than his policies."
In the Quinnipiac poll, there was a narrow margin among respondents, 35-37 percent on whether the United States would have been better off had Obama's Republican opponent John McCain won last year's election.
The 50 percent job approval barrier is traditionally seen as a crucial one for presidents, affecting their political standing and ability to attract support for their policies in Congress.
Those results suggested that one of Obama's prime goals, bridging political divides in the United States, had failed during his first year in office -- though the president's Democrats accuse opposition Republicans of serial obstruction.
After a bitter year-long debate, Obama and Democrats in Congress are moving closer to passing a sweeping health care reform bill -- but the polls show their efforts have extracted a painful political price.
Just 36 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of health care, down from 42 percent in December and 47 percent in October, CBS said.
In the CNN survey, 40 percent of those polled backed Obama's handling of health care and 59 percent disapproved. In October 42 percent approved, and as far back as last March 57 percent of those polled endorsed his approach.
A new Gallup poll, however, found that support among Americans for health care legislation had risen slightly since November.
Forty-nine percent of Americans now want their member of Congress to vote for such legislation, compared to 46 percent who want a no vote, the poll found.
Obama also faces challenging ground on the economy.
Forty-four percent of those asked by CNN approved of Obama's stewardship of the economy, with unemployment at 10 percent and a credit squeeze still tight -- a new low for that survey.
CBS News found 41 percent backed Obama's economic management, another new low.
Quinnipiac found only 41 percent backed his handling of the economy, 34 percent approved of his efforts to create jobs and 35 percent approved of Obama's handling of health care.
But the surveys found better news for Obama on national security, despite withering Republican attacks on his record following an Al-Qaeda attempt to bring down a US-bound jet carrying 290 people on December 25.
According to CNN, 50 percent backed Obama's handling of terrorism. CBS News put that figure at 52 percent and found that 57 percent approved of the way Obama had managed the Christmas attack, compared to 29 percent who disapproved.
The keys to a possible Obama recovery, after the likely passage of health care reform, and if the economy recovers, were also evident in the polls.
Some 64 percent of those asked by CNN said Obama had the "personality and leadership" qualities required of a president.
But the White House will be concerned by the CBS finding that Obama's standing among independent voters whom he attracted in his 2008 election triumph has fallen to 42 percent -- a decline of 10 points in the last few months alone.
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