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Unfavorable views of Barack Obama inched to their highest level of his presidency in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, but he's still more popular than his front-running potential Republican challenger, Newt Gingrich.
And then there are views of the economy, which make both look almost good by comparison.
Forty-nine percent of Americans now express an unfavorable opinion of Obama, while 48 percent view him favorably - the first time his negative number has exceeded his positive one in this most basic measure of personal popularity. Obama's favorable rating has plummeted by 31 points from his career high, 79 percent, days before he took office.
Gingrich is further underwater, with an unfavorable rating that's essentially the same as Obama's - 48 percent - but a favorable score that's 13 points lower, 35 percent. (More are undecided about Gingrich than about the president.) Moreover, while just 23 percent see Obama "strongly" favorably, Gingrich's core group of strong supporters is just half as large, 12 percent.
For all the hullaballoo since Gingrich surged in support for the GOP presidential nomination, this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that his favorable rating in his own party is unchanged from late last month, at 60 percent, and he's actually grown more unpopular among independents and Democrats alike. The net result: No change in his favorable score, but a 6-point rise in the number of Americans who see him unfavorably.
Indeed that includes a slight 10-point rise in his unfavorable rating from "very conservative" Americans, from 21 percent last month to 31 percent now.
ECONOMY - If an overall 48 percent or 49 percent unfavorable rating is unwelcome, consider the economy: A vast 74 percent of Americans express an unfavorable opinion of its direction, including 51 percent who rate it "strongly" unfavorably. That's in part a political judgment, with dim views of the economy's direction 19 points higher among Republicans (84 percent unfavorable) than among Democrats (65 percent).
In line with the political element to economic assessments, Obama is a vast 38 points more popular among people who have a favorable view of the economy's direction vs. those who see it unfavorably. There's an opposite effect for Gingrich, and a much less pronounced one; he's 11 points more popular among people who take a negative view of the economy than a positive one.
GROUPS - Obama has 22-point higher favorability among Democrats, 82 percent, than does Gingrich among Republicans. (There is, after all, a popularity contest under way within the GOP). Also, while Obama has an 8-point net negative score among independents (44-52 percent, favorable-unfavorable), Gingrich's is more so, minus-15 points (33-48 percent).
Among ideological groups, similarly, Obama does better with liberals, 75-24 percent favorable-unfavorable, than does Gingrich with conservatives, 54-33 percent. (There are many more conservatives than liberals, giving Gingrich some pushback). Among moderates, Obama has a 12-point net positive score, compared with Gingrich's 22-point net negative.
There are other differences among groups. Obama's favorability rating is 10 points higher among women (who are more apt to be Democrats) than among men, 53 percent vs. 43 percent. He's seen favorably by a vast 91 percent of African-Americans, vs. just 38 percent of whites.
Gingrich, for his part, does 8 points better with men than with women, and runs evenly with Obama in favorable ratings among whites, while scoring 82 points lower than Obama among African-Americans, and 45 points lower among nonwhites overall.
METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cell phone Dec. 7-11, 2011 among a random national sample of 1,012 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS/Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa.