WASHINGTON Americans by a large majority believe President Barack Obama has not focused enough on job creation, as economic fears threaten Democrats ahead of November 2 congressional elections, a Reuters-Ipsos poll found on Tuesday.
In a sign of trouble ahead for the Democrats, the poll found evidence of a sizable enthusiasm gap with Republicans more energized about voting in the elections.
Americans expressed deep unhappiness with the direction of the economy, which in the poll they identified overwhelmingly as the country's top problem.
The U.S. unemployment rate is at a stubbornly high 9.5 percent and Obama has spent much of the year on issues like Wall Street reform and healthcare in addition to jobs.
People were more negative about Obama's performance on the economy than on any other question surveyed. Satisfaction was dropping more sharply on the issue than on any other question.
Only 34 percent approved of Obama's handling of the economy and jobs compared to 46 percent who deemed it unsatisfactory. This is a sharp decline from early 2009, shortly after he took office, when more than half of those surveyed approved of Obama's handling of the worst financial crisis in decades.
Overall, the July 22-25 national poll of 1,075 adults gave Obama an approval rating of 48 percent, a small decline from a June survey that had him at 50 percent approval.
This is in line with other polls showing his approval rating under 50 percent and evidence that for all the country's problems, Obama remains generally well-liked.
"People still feel insecure about their future," said Ipsos pollster Cliff Young. "They are spending less and saving more. They're not buying a larger house or car or other luxuries because they're worried -- and that worry also manifests itself on the political side."
U.S. presidents often lose support in midterm elections.
The Republicans are hoping to win control of the House of Representatives in November and pick up seats in the Senate. That could prevent Obama from winning any more major successes in Congress in the second half of this term.
Obama pushed the Senate on Tuesday to pass legislation intended to benefit small businesses and generate jobs.
"I hope that in the coming days, we'll once again find common ground and get this legislation passed. We shouldn't let America's small businesses be held hostage to partisan politics and certainly not at this critical time," Obama said.
The poll provided evidence that Americans are unhappy that Obama and the Democrats chose to devote their energies to overhauling the U.S. healthcare system and financial regulations instead of dwelling exclusively on job creation.
It found that 67 percent of poll respondents said Obama has not focused enough on job creation compared to healthcare and regulation of banks. Obama has argued that those reforms are vital building blocks to a strong economic recovery.
"They think he should've focused much more on the economy rather than healthcare and financial regulation," said pollster Young. "From a voter perspective, they don't see the economy improving. They don't think the administration has given due attention to that problem."
The Reuters-Ipsos poll was dismal news for Democrats as they seek to hold off Republicans in November elections in which Americans will elect 435 members of the House of Representatives and 37 of the 100-seat U.S. Senate.
Republicans hold a 46-44 percent lead over Democrats when participants were asked which party they planned to support in November. And 72 percent of Republicans said they are certain to vote on November 2, compared to 49 percent of Democrats.
"Republicans are charged up because they think they have a chance," Young said.
The economy is still recovering too slowly to improve Obama's political fortunes. U.S. consumer confidence sank in July to its lowest since February.
Figures to be released on Friday are likely to show that growth in the U.S. economy slowed in the second quarter amid a cooling in consumer spending and a wider trade deficit -- but they will mark four straight quarters of expansion.
Not all was dire for Obama as 52 percent of independent voters approved of his job performance. Independents are closely watched because they often make the difference in close elections.
Obama, when accused by Republicans of driving up government spending and debt with an $862 billion stimulus plan, has made the point that he inherited a $1.3 trillion U.S. budget deficit from his unpopular predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.
But the poll suggested there are limits to this argument. It said 70 percent of Americans think the deficit has increased under Obama, and 75 percent said it grew under Bush.
Although U.S. troops are on their way out of Iraq, only 34 percent approved of Obama's handling of the Iraq war, down from 51 percent early in his term.
With casualties rising in Afghanistan, 33 percent approved of Obama's handling of the Afghan war, down from 47 percent shortly after he took office.
More Americans approved than disapproved of Obama's efforts toward energy independence, 39 percent to 32 percent. But, again, the approval rating is down from the 56 percent approval he received on this subject in February 2009.
This comes as Obama grapples with BP Plc's Gulf of Mexico oil spill and pushes the need for more clean-energy jobs.
The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish and the data weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflected that of the actual U.S. population according to U.S. Census figures.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Will Dunham)