An eight-point swing in just two months. This is not the centrist “pragmatist” they thought they knew.

For the first time, independent voters—who delivered Mr. Obama the White House and Democrats control of the Congress—disapprove of the job he is doing, 46% to the 41% who approve. In July, 49% of independents approved of the president, against 38% who disapproved.

New doubts about the president have coincided with new hopes for Republicans, who appeared flattened by the election nearly a year ago.

As the 2010 election cycle heats up, independent voters now favor Republican control of Congress by four percentage points.

“For a party walloped two cycles in a row with independents, I think those are very important stories,” said Bill McInturff, a partner at the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, who conducts the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

His approval rating’s flat at 51 percent overall. More anti-statist backlash from the crosstabs: For the first time since 1997, more people say government is doing too many things rather than not doing enough (49/45) and more are worried about the exploding deficit than the need to “boost” the economy with new spending (62/30, up from 58/35 in June). This speaks for itself:

On health care, the best spin NBC can muster is that he’s up slightly from last month after his Beyond Thunderdome media blitz — but the gains are so slight as to be within the margin of error. A plurality still opposes the public option (46/48, up slightly from 43/47 in August but still down from 46/44 in July) and 59 percent say they’d either prefer or demand that a mandate to buy insurance not be included in the final bill.

And yet:

As loathsome as the left’s demagoguery of conservatives over health care has been, credit them with having convinced the public that it’s the GOP, not the warring between Blue Dogs and progressives, that’s stalled the bill in Congress.

The sample for the poll, by the way: 41 percent Democrat and just 29 percent Republican (if leaners are included). Exit question: Is there any real utility to tracking The One’s approval rating when it’s tied so heavily to the economic outlook? John Judis has a piece at TNR today reminding us that FDR and Reagan won huge reelection landslides not because the economy was in tiptop shape when the election was held but merely because it was improving after a long period of downturn. There’s no reason I can think of to suspect that things will be different for Obama. The difference between him and Reagan may simply be that it’ll take longer for that improvement to show than it did for the Gipper.