President Obama presents his State of the Union to a nation confronting huge challenges from abroad, a vast and widening inequality here at home, despite the economy’s current growth spurt before a deadlocked Congress controlled for the first time in his presidency by a Republican majority in both houses. A new Monmouth University/Al Jazeera America poll shows he’s unpopular but nowhere near as unpopular as Congress. Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that fewer than half of those polled approve of President Obama’s work.
Murray has polled Americans on every subject that Obama is expected to address in the State of the Union tonight. Forty-three percent of Americans polled approve of how Obama is doing as president and 48 percent disapprove. He said that’s a slight improvement from last month but his rating is still negative overall. He said that Obama’s only saving grace is the fact that Congress has a 17 percent job approval rating. He said that Congress is seen as the bigger stumbling block to progress in D.C. than the president is at this point.
Murray’s poll indicates that 73 percent of Americans believe a terror attack similar to the one in Paris is either somewhat likely or very likely to happen here. When asked what this says about the level of fear of another 9/11 type of attack, Murray said, “The fear is an undercurrent. It’s not that people are running around in the street worried about it but there is a sense that something is possible to happen somewhere. The public is divided on whether the government has done enough or not done enough to protect us from that kind of attack. There’s a question of whether they can protect us from that kind of attack. We just really don’t know.”
Obama is expected to address what is being done to protect the U.S. from ISIL. Murray said that there is a good number of Americans who think that ISIL cannot be defeated. He said that one-third polled said that even if U.S. troops were sent overseas, that ISIL still wouldn’t be stopped. He said the majority polled said that it’s going to take combat troops to stop ISIL, not that they want to send combat troops or would even approve of it, but that’s probably the only way to defeat ISIL.
Obama has recently put emphasis on economic equality, which Republican candidates have already made the talking point on the campaign trail. When asked if Obama will be setting a campaign theme in his address, Murray said, “I think so. I think it’s a theme of what do you do when you have a Republican Congress who is not going to agree with you? One of the things that has been an undercurrent of this President Obama’s administration in the past six years has been the sense that everything that he’s done for the economy has been to help the big guy or to help those who are at the very bottom but not the middle class.”
Murray said that he remembers a poll that he conducted in New Jersey in the first year or two that Obama was president when he has bailing out Wall Street and New Jerseyans back then were saying that everybody — the wealthy, the health insurers, the poor — were all doing well by Obama except for the middle class. He said the most recent national poll found the same results. He said that 47 percent of Americans think that their family’s financial situation has actually been hurt by the federal government’s actions over the past few years. He said that only about 15 percent say it has been helped. He said that most people feel that the economic recovery has left them behind.
Hot button issues in Trenton are taxing the wealthy and expanding paid sick leave. Obama is expected to address both tonight. Murray said that is not going to play well with the Republicans in Congress. He said he thinks that it is clear that middle class issues about wage and job security are big right now. He said that even though unemployment is going down, people still feel uncertain that they are going to be able to keep their jobs. He said that people are also looking at the fact that their bills are going up but wages aren’t. He said those are the issues that people care about right now.
When asked if those issues are more likely to be handled at the legislative level or the federal level, Murray said he doesn’t know what can be done without Congress being involved or without the Legislature being involved, if one looks at the state or nationally. Murray said, “We are already hearing rumblings that Congress is not going to go along with the president. I don’t know exactly what is going to come of this, but it’s the kind of message that Americans hoped to hear a few years ago but are hearing now at a point when Obama doesn’t have the Congress that he can get to go along with him on these issues.”