The president’s effort to seize the initiative on the economy was well received by the public, and clear majorities support crucial pieces of his new job-creation program. But despite Mr. Obama’s campaign to sell the plan to Congress and voters, more than half of those questioned said they feared the economy was already in or was headed for a double-dip recession, and nearly three-quarters of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.
Republicans appear more energized than Democrats at the outset of the 2012 presidential campaign, but have not coalesced around a candidate. Even as the party’s nominating contest seems to be narrowing to a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a majority of their respective supporters say they have reservations about their candidate. Half of Republicans who plan to vote in a primary say they would like more choices.
A snapshot of the Republican Party, four months before the first primary ballots are cast, shows that voters are evenly divided between preferring a presidential nominee who can defeat Mr. Obama or one who aligns with them on most issues. A majority of voters who support the Tea Party movement place a higher priority on winning back the White House.
The Republican primary campaign is unfolding in a more conservative electorate than four years ago, with 7 in 10 Republican voters calling themselves conservative and one-quarter who say they are moderate.
The poll, which was conducted after Mr. Obama’s economic address to Congress last week, contains considerable warning signs for the president. The poll found a 12-point jump since late June, to 43 percent, in the number of Americans who say the economy is getting worse. And for the first time since taking office, his disapproval rating has reached 50 percent in the Times and CBS News polls.
“I don’t disapprove of Barack Obama as a person, but as a president he has disappointed me greatly,” said Ann Sheets, 69, a Democrat from Chattanooga, Tenn., speaking in a follow-up interview. Ms. Sheets added, “I’m realistic enough to know how difficult it is and I am not against compromise, but I voted for a backbone. You have to draw some lines in the sand, and I don’t think he has done that.”
The poll found a 43 percent approval rating for Mr. Obama. It is significantly higher than Jimmy Carter, who had an approval rating of 31 percent at a similar time in his presidency, according to the Times and CBS News poll, which showed Ronald Reagan with an approval of 46 percent and the elder George Bush at 70 percent.
The president’s support has fallen to its lowest levels across parts of the diverse coalition of voters who elected him, from women to suburbanites to college graduates. And a persistent effort over the past year to reclaim his appeal to independent voters has shown few signs of bearing fruit, with 59 percent of this critical electoral group voicing their disapproval.
While Mr. Obama has not yet succeeded in winning over independent voters, who comprise the most influential piece of the electorate, neither have Republicans. The field is largely unknown to independents, and few have a favorable opinion of any of the candidates.
As the Republican Party experiences something of a reinvention, with Tea Party activists often clashing with the party’s weakening establishment, the poll found an overall electorate that is not entirely in step with the campaign messages of the party’s candidates.
More than 8 in 10 Republicans voters would like to see the national health care law repealed, at least in part. About half say illegal immigrants should be deported, rather than offered a chance at citizenship or an opportunity to serve as guest workers.
Yet in stark contrast to the positions taken by some presidential candidates, three-quarters of Republicans say g
lobal warming exists — either as a result of human activity, natural patterns in the earth’s environment, or both. Nearly 6 in 10 favor allowing same-sex couples to either form civil unions or marry. And only one-third of Republicans support a ban on abortion.
A slim majority of Republican voters say it is important for a presidential candidate to share their religious beliefs. And more than one-third of Republican primary voters say that most people they know would not vote for a candidate who is Mormon.
Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, struggled during his presidential bid four years ago to explain his Mormon traditions to some voters. Mr. Perry speaks frequently to Republican audiences about his evangelical beliefs.
The poll was taken as Republicans hopefuls are drawing sharp distinctions with one another in a series of nationally televised debates.
A fight over Social Security has emerged as one of the early yet defining differences between Mr. Perry, who has called the program a “monstrous lie,” and Mr. Romney, who has called for maintaining the current system with some changes to shore up its long-term financial condition. The poll found that nearly three-quarters of Republicans said they thought Social Security and Medicare were worth their costs.