WASHINGTON Economic fears are weighing heavily on Americans, with a large majority saying the United States is on the wrong track and nearly half believing the worst is yet to come, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Wednesday.
The poll reflected growing anxiety about the U.S. economy and frustration with Washington after a narrowly averted government default last week, a credit rating downgrade by Standard & Poor's, a stock market dive and a stubbornly high 9.1 percent jobless rate.
President Barack Obama was politically bruised in the brutal, weeks-long debt debate, and negative views on the economy are worrisome signs for his 2012 re-election bid.
His approval rating dropped to 45 percent from 49 percent a month ago, according to the poll conducted from Thursday to Monday. Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, never saw his approval rating dip below 46 percent in Gallup polling in his re-election year of 2004.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll found 73 percent of Americans believe the United States is "off on the wrong track," and just one in five, 21 percent, think the country is headed in the right direction.
The survey found that 47 percent believe "the worst is yet to come" in the U.S. economy, an increase of 13 percentage points from a year ago when this question was last raised.
This is the highest measure since March 2009, when concern peaked at 57 percent, at the height of the recession.
Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said the wrong-track measure reflects widespread unhappiness with the economy and frustration at both political parties, but "you can't say it's a predictor of how Obama will fare" in 2012.
The level of discontent was 10 points higher than a July survey and is the highest in an Ipsos poll since it reached 73 percent in October 2008, at the height of the financial crisis. The polling organization found 77 percent felt the country was on the wrong track in July 2008, during George W. Bush's final year in office.
Gallup has found even higher levels of dissatisfaction at various points over the past 30 years, but it is rare.
Republicans appear to be suffering the most from the last-minute debt deal last week that was reached only after anguished negotiations between Obama and congressional leaders.
The survey found 49 percent of Americans held a negative view of Republicans after the deal was reached, and 42 percent held a negative opinion of the conservative Tea Party movement. Tea Party conservatives stuck closely to their demand that deficit reduction be handled solely through spending cuts and were willing to risk a default to achieve their aims.
By contrast, 40 percent of those polled saw Democrats in a negative light.
"Coming out of this, the Republicans are I think taking the balance of the blame for the debt deal negotiations," Clark said.
Obama was viewed negatively by 42 percent as a result of the debt deal, while House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, was viewed negatively by 37 percent.
A USA Today/Gallup poll this week suggested possible evidence of an anti-incumbent wave building, saying only 24 percent of Americans believe most members of Congress deserve re-election, the lowest percentage since Gallup began asking the question in 1991.
Clark said Obama's approval is in relatively safe territory, but that his re-election could be threatened if he were to dip into the 30s.
"A difficult economic situation will create a difficult situation for the president when it comes to re-election a year from now," she said. "When the economy is bad, people look for a change."
The debt agreement that consumed weeks of debate and resulted in a two-staged arrangement to cut spending is not getting rave reviews.
More people surveyed, 53 percent, held a negative view of the compromise agreement, compared to 38 percent who think it is a good deal.
Democrats were more balanced in their views, with 47 percent approving it and 45 percent disliking it. A majority of independents, 53 percent, and Republicans, 63 percent, did not like it.
"The process was very damaging to Washington," said Clark.
Americans held mixed views on the best way to stimulate economic growth. Cutting spending, 49 percent, and taxing the wealthy, 46 percent, came highest, followed by investment in infrastructure, 34 percent.
Democrats are urging Obama to move away from the debate over how to reduce America's structural deficits and concentrate solely on creating U.S. jobs. Obama has signaled he plans to do this.
"Shift the focus on job creation," former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson told MSNBC.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll of 1,055 adults, including 885 registered voters, had a margin of error of 3 percentage points for all respondents and 3.1 points for registered voters.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)