WASHINGTON - Democrats face serious obstacles as they look to the November elections, with President Obama's approval rating at a new low and a majority of voters saying they prefer a Congress in Republican hands to check the president's agenda, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Obama's approval rating fell to 41 percent, down from 46 percent through the first three months of the year and the lowest of his presidency in Post-ABC News polls. Just 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 37 percent approve of how he is handling the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and 34 percent approve of his handling of the situation involving Ukraine and Russia.
Obama's low rating could be a significant drag on Democratic candidates this fall - past elections suggest that when approval ratings are as low as Obama's, the president's party is almost certain to suffer at the ballot box in November.
Republicans are favored to maintain control of the House, with the focus now on whether they can take control of the Senate. One key question about November is who will vote. Turnout in midterm elections is always lower than in presidential elections, and at this point, key elements of the Republican coalition - namely white voters and older voters - are more certain they will cast ballots this fall than are younger voters and minorities, two groups that Democrats and Obama relied on in 2008 and 2012.
Democrats are not without assets as the midterm election campaigns intensify. Americans trust Democrats over Republicans by 40 percent to 34 percent to handle the country's main problems. By significant margins, Americans see Democrats as better for the middle class and on women's issues. Americans favor the Democrats' positions on raising the minimum wage, same-sex marriage, and the broad issue of dealing with global climate change.
Led by Obama, Democrats have sought to use many of these issues to draw contrasts with Republicans, both nationally and in states with the most competitive races.
The Affordable Care Act is expected to be a major issue in the midterm elections. Obama recently urged Democrats to defend the law energetically, particularly after the administration announced that eight million people signed up for it during the initial enrollment period. Republicans are confident that opposition to the new law will energize their supporters.
The Post-ABC poll found that 44 percent say they support the law while 48 percent say they oppose it, which is about where it was at the end of last year and in January.