NBC/WSJ poll shows 55% think Obama isn't getting the message from midterms

The midterm elections sent Barack Obama a clear message, say three-quarters of respondents to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, but 55% think Obama either missed the message or is ignoring it. Another majority back the use of enhanced interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists (51/28). The WSJ leads with race relations, though, so let’s start with their graph on the subject:

nbc-wsj-racerelations-graph

After two widely publicized cases of grand juries’ choosing not to pursue criminal charges against white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men, the poll found that just 40% of Americans believe race relations in the U.S. are good—the lowest share registered by the poll since 1995.

The more negative view of race relations marked a substantial change from the period shortly after Mr. Obama’s election, when 77% said race relations were good and 21% said they were bad.

The change is largely a reflection of a change in attitudes among whites, who made up 74% of the survey. In mid-2013, whites viewed race relations favorably rather than negatively, with 52% calling them “very good” or “fairly good,” while 45% called relations “fairly bad” or “very bad.” Now the assessment has flipped to a more unfavorable view of 40% to 58%.

Among African-Americans, who made up 12% of poll respondents, the change has been less pronounced. In mid-2013, some 38% rated relations as very or fairly good, and 58% viewed them as very or fairly bad. Now, 35% give a positive assessment and 63% a negative one.

Well, kinda. It’s true that the most dramatic change in the past year has been among whites, but that’s only a small part of the story. Whites tend to be more optimistic than blacks in this poll, but the trends track very closely together over time, as the chart shows. The more significant trend is the sharp decline starting in 2010 among all groups. Both are now at lows not seen since before Obama got elected, lows that go back to the first term of Bill Clinton. Hispanics tend to be the most optimistic, but they’re trending downward too.

What’s driving that? Each group probably has different reasons. What’s clear is that Obama is at the least not helping matters. Otherwise, this poll has little to offer on causes. It only asks whether the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have impacted their view of the legal system. For more than four out of ten respondents, neither had an impact.

The NBC/WSJ poll corroborates earlier polling on EITs. By almost 2:1, Americans think the CIA’s efforts to prevent further attacks on the US were “acceptable under the circumstances,” 51/28. A plurality of 45/28 believe those techniques should be available in the future. If one believes that these EITs amounted to torture, that’s not exactly a “never again” populace, and it suggests that the Democratic attack on the CIA will have the potential for considerable blowback, politically speaking. Don’t be surprised if Democrats drop this topic after New Year’s Day, if not earlier.

Obama has bigger problems in this poll, as the WSJ notes:

[T]he nation shows weariness of President Barack Obama , with more than 70% saying the next president should take a different approach from the current one.

That will also mean different things to different people, but it means one thing for Obama: lame duck. It’s similar to the 76% George W. Bush got  in 2008. Otherwise, the message is a little muddled. Republicans have a 40/38 advantage on the next-president preference, a question this series hasn’t asked since the end of the Reagan era. Republicans had a 39/36 edge in that one, although Democrats led in three 1987 iterations of the same question. In contrast, only 50% in 1999 wanted a different approach from Bill Clinton in the next presidency.

Respondents are already unhappy with Obama’s refusal to recognize the message of the midterms. Thirty-four percent believe he’s gotten the message but just refusing to make the necessary adjustments to respond to voters, while another 21% think he’s just clueless. Only 24% think that the midterms didn’t send a message to Obama at all. So much for Obama’s attempt to claim he’s listening to the supposed two-thirds of voters who didn’t cast a ballot on November 4th.

Obama’s numbers are similar to other national polling. His job approval is 45/50, up from 40/54 in August but not by much. He gets better marks on the economy than in other polling, 46/49, which is a jump from 43/53 last month. On foreign policy, though, he’s still deeply underwater at 37/55, and his numbers have barely budged on immigration (40/53) even after his supposedly bold unilateral move last month … after the election and almost six years into his presidency.

No one is terribly impressed with Obama any longer. The lame-duck era will be long and painful for the White House, especially with Republicans fully in charge on Capitol Hill.