WASHINGTON -- Americans are finding little they like about President Barack Obama or either political party, according to a new poll that suggests the possibility of a "throw the bums out" mentality in next year's midterm elections.
The AP-GfK poll finds few people approve of the way the president is handling most major issues and most people say he's not decisive, strong, honest, reasonable or inspiring.
In the midst of the government shutdown and Washington gridlock, the president is faring much better than his party, with large majorities of those surveyed finding little positive to say about Democrats. The negatives are even higher for the Republicans across the board, with 4 out of 5 people describing the GOP as unlikeable and dishonest and not compassionate, refreshing, inspiring or innovative.
Negativity historically hurts the party in power -- particularly when it occurs in the second term of a presidency -- but this round seems to be hitting everyone. More people now say they see bigger differences between the two parties than before Obama was elected, yet few like what either side is offering. A big unknown: possible fallout from the unresolved budget battle in Washington.
The numbers offer warning signs for every incumbent lawmaker, and if these angry sentiments stretch into next year, the 2014 elections could feel much like the 2006 and 2010 midterms when being affiliated with Washington was considered toxic by many voters. In 2006, voters booted Republicans from power in the House and Senate, and in 2010, they fired Democrats who had been controlling the House.
"There needs to be a major change," said Pam Morrison, 56, of Lincoln, Neb., among those who were surveyed. "I'm anxious for the next election to see what kind of new blood we can get."
Morrison describes herself as a conservative Republican and said she is very concerned about how her adult children are going to afford insurance under Obama's health care law. She places most of the blame for the shutdown on the president, but she also disapproves of the job Congress is doing. "I don't think they're working together," Morrison said.
"Congress needs to take a look at their salaries, they need to take a cut to their salaries and they need to feel some of the pain the American people are feeling," said Morrison, who is married to a government worker who she said has been deemed essential and is still on the job.
People across the political spectrum voiced disappointment.
Suzanne Orme, a 74-year-old retiree and self-described liberal who lives in California's Silicon Valley, says the shutdown is more the Republican Party's fault. "The Republicans seem to be a bunch of morons who aren't going to give in for anything. I just don't get it with them. They are just crazy," she said.
But she also said she strongly disapproves of the way Obama is handling his job, and doesn't find him likable, decisive, strong, honest, compassionate, refreshing, ethical, inspiring or reasonable. The only positive attribute she gave him was innovative.
"It sounds like he's kind of weak. He says one thing and does another," Orme said after taking the survey. For example, she said Obama hasn't made good on his promise to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and changed his position on whether people should be penalized for failing to get health insurance.
"I voted for him, and he's turned out to be a big disappointment," she said. "I mean, what's the alternative?" Orme said it just seems to her that Washington is run by lobbyists and consumed by financial greed.
A bad sign for Democrats is that Obama has bled support among independents -- 60 percent disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job, while only 16 percent approve. As he began his second term in January, independents tilted positive, 48 percent approved and 39 percent disapproved.
Neither party can win without the support of independents, with only about a third of the poll's respondents identifying themselves as Democrats and about a quarter as Republicans.
Obama has held onto support from Carol Cox, a 59-year-old independent from Hartville, Ohio, who says she feels the president helps people in need. She is happy to see his health care law that offers coverage to the uninsured and to people with pre-existing conditions, although she thinks the rollout could have been better. "I think he's doing an OK job," she said of the president.
But she is not happy with either party in Congress. She said the shutdown is affecting her family's investments and she's concerned about the future of Social Security. "I'm really angry and frustrated. I can't believe how mad I am about this."
As for next year's congressional election, she said, "I would love to see just a total turnover."
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 3-7, 2013, using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based online panel. It involved online interviews with 1,227 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.
The survey was designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. Those who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to get online at no cost.