WASHINGTON Less than two months into his second term, President Barack Obama's approval rating has dropped and Americans blame him and his fellow Democrats almost as much as his Republican opponents for a fiscal mess.
A Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Wednesday showed 43 percent of people approve of Obama's handling of his job, down 7 percentage points from February 19.
Most of that steep drop came in the week to February 26 when it was becoming clear that Washington was going to be unable to put aside partisan differences and agree to halt automatic budget cuts which started last Friday.
Confounding the White House's efforts to blame Republicans for the cuts, most respondents in the online survey hold both Democrats and Republicans responsible.
Obama shot out of the gate in January at the start of his second four years in the White House, promising gun control and immigration legislation as well as efforts to tackle climate change and expand gay rights.
But Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said the survey shows Obama's honeymoon is now over, partly due to the "sequestration" cuts which will likely curtail public services like air traffic control and national parks as well as funding for the Pentagon.
"People are seeing things are back to business as usual in Washington," she said. "They are reading about the immense fallout this is going to have in terms of how it's going to affect the military and individuals."
Thirty-eight percent of Americans believe all the political actors involved - Republican and Democratic members of Congress along with Obama - deserve most of the blame for the cuts.
Twenty-seven percent think Republicans in Congress are responsible, 17 percent blamed Obama and 6 percent thought Democrats were to blame. Nearly half of independent voters, 49 percent, said both sides deserve the blame.
"I think this frustration is being reflected certainly in their view of the president and Congress as well. This is a pox on everyone's house really," Clark said.
The fall in Obama's rating was similar to that in the Gallup three-day average tracking poll which shows his approval dropping 7 percentage points from late February to last weekend before recovering slightly.
WHITE HOUSE DEFENSIVE
That survey put the White House on the defensive on Tuesday. Spokesman Jay Carney cautioned that the result should not detract from Obama's efforts to fix thorny tax and spending issues after a convincing election defeat of Republican candidate Mitt Romney last November.
"Before we say anything is clear based on one poll, could we just remember, just think back a few months to the summer and fall of 2012, and understand that we're here focused on the president's agenda, getting the work done that we think is most beneficial to the middle class," he told a briefing.
Obama is now facing questions over whether he and fellow Democrats miscalculated the budget showdown and especially their messaging strategy of making frequent graphic warnings that public services were about to be decimated by cuts.
The strategy seemed aimed at having the public put pressure on Republican lawmakers to cede to White House demands to include tax increases as part of a solution to halt sequestration.
But tax hikes were always going to be a tough sell to Republicans, said William Galston, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who was a domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton
"Opposition to taxes is about the only thing holding the current Republican Party together," Galston said. "I can't imagine any Republican leader proposing a new deficit reduction package including tax increases and holding onto his job for very long."
While the budget battle are complex, the Reuters/Ipsos poll showed many Americans are paying attention. The poll found 35 percent of those surveyed are paying a little bit of attention to the fight, 27 percent a fair amount and 9 percent a great deal. More than a quarter, 28 percent, knew nothing at all about it.
In the poll, 1,797 adults were interviewed between March 1-5.
The precision of the Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Eric Walsh)