Washington (CNN) – With the midterm elections less than eight months away, and with Republicans framing the battles for control of the U.S. House and Senate as a referendum on President Barack Obama and his signature health care law, the President's approval rating will increasingly be under the spotlight.
According to a new CNN Poll of Polls that averages four new national surveys that measure the President's approval rating, 44% of Americans say they approve of the job Obama's doing in the White House, with 52% giving him a thumbs down.
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The CNN Poll of Polls averages new surveys from NBC News/Wall Street Journal (Obama at 41%), Bloomberg (Obama at 48%), CNN/ORC International (Obama at 43%) and the latest Gallup Daily Tracking Poll (Obama at 45%).
The President's approval rating is slightly higher than where it stood in November and December, when it was hovering at or near all-time lows in most national polls, but it's far lower than where he stood a year ago, when his numbers were generally just below 50%. But Obama's approval ratings steadily declined in the following months as he dealt with one controversy after another, from NSA surveillance and allegations that the IRS targeted conservative groups to the extremely flawed rollout of the new federal health care website in the autumn.
Why it matters
The presidential approval rating is the best measure of a president's standing with the American public and good indicator of his clout with lawmakers here in the nation's capital. And in midterm election years, the approval rating is closely watched to gauge how well members of the president's party will fare.
"Low approval numbers usually spell bad news for the president's party. George W. Bush's rating was just 36% in March of his sixth year and his party lost control of the House later that year. Richard Nixon got only a 26% approval rating in March of his sixth year and the GOP got hammered in the 1974 midterms," CNN Polling Director Keating said.
"On the other hand, high approval rating don't always help. Ronald Reagan's approval rating was at 63% in March of 1986 and remained that high throughout the year, but his party still lost seats in the House and lost control of the Senate in the 1986 midterms."
The CNN Poll of Polls was released the day after a major victory by Republicans in what was considered a key congressional election in a swing district.
Republican candidate David Jolly edged out Democrat Alex Sink to win Tuesday's special election in Florida's 13th Congressional District. Jolly will fill out the term of his former boss, longtime Republican Rep. Bill Young, who died in October.
With national Republicans framing the race as a referendum on Obamacare, a massive infusion of outside ad money into the race to try to influence the outcome of the contest, and some pundits calling the contest a possible bellwether for November's midterm elections, the race was constantly in the national spotlight.
Balance of Power
With Jolly's win keeping the congressional seat in GOP hands, the Democrats still need win 17 seats in November's midterm elections to regain control of the chamber. Political handicappers consider that a tall order, considering the shrinking number of competitive congressional districts nationwide.
Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate (53 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party), but are defending 21 of the 36 seats up in November, with half of those Democratic-held seats in red or purple states.
By a 33%-24% margin, Americans questioned in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll say their vote in November will be to signal opposition to the President rather than to signal support. But just over four in 10 say their vote has nothing to do the with Obama. Nearly half of those polled say they're less likely to vote for a candidate who's a strong supporter of the Obama administration, with just over a quarter saying they're more likely to vote for such a candidate.
According to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, Republicans hold an insignificant one-point margin (44%-43%) over the Democrats in the generic ballot question, which asks to choose between a Democrat or Republican in respondents' congressional district without identifying the candidates. While the generic ballot question is one of the most commonly used indicators when it comes to the battle for Congress, the poll results are a long way from predicting what will happen in November's midterm elections.
The latest edition of the CNN Poll of Polls is an average of the four non-partisan, live operator, national surveys of the president's approval rating conducted over the last week: Gallup daily tracking poll (March 8-10); Bloomberg National Poll (March 7-10); NBC News/Wall Street Journal (March 5-9) and CNN/ORC International (March 7-9). Since it is an average of multiple surveys, the Poll of Polls does not have a sampling error.