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Poll: 4 in 10 call this the worst governing of their lifetimes

Posted: 3:54 AM, Feb 04, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-04 11:54:50Z

With a looming February 15 deadline to fund parts of the US government, few are optimistic the President and Congress will be able to reach agreement in time to prevent another partial shutdown, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS .

Nearly two-thirds (64%) say an agreement is unlikely to happen before the deadline, with pessimism stretching across party lines. Majorities of independents (67%), Democrats (65%) and Republicans (57%) say an agreement is unlikely.

Related: Full poll results

Almost 7 in 10 say the federal government is doing a bad job of governing, including 43% who say it's the worst job of governing in their lifetimes. That's about double the share who said the same in early 1996 (21%) following a government shutdown that was the longest on record until last month. Just 19% say the federal government is doing a good job.

Donald Trump's overall approval rating stands at 40% approve to 55% disapprove in the new poll, a slightly more positive read than in January during the shutdown, but not a statistically significant improvement. His approval rating for handling immigration -- the issue at the heart of the shutdown -- stands at 41%. Although that is also not a significant improvement compared with his ratings before the shutdown, it is his best read on the matter in CNN polling since April 2017.

But most still disapprove of the President's work on the issue (54% disapprove) and the public is largely opposed to Trump's proposed paths forward on the wall he pledged to build along the southern border between the United States and Mexico. Two-thirds say he should not declare a national emergency in order to build the wall (66% should not vs. 31% should), and 57% say they would oppose another partial government shutdown over wall funding.

The President's base, however, is playing a different tune. Among conservative Republicans, there is massive support for another government shutdown (78% would favor that if no agreement is reached including wall funding) or for the declaration of a national emergency in order to build the wall (72% favor that).

Overall, though, the poll suggests most want to avoid shutdowns in the future: 53% would back legislation preventing any future shutdowns, 40% would oppose that.

If there is a political winner to come out of the most recent shutdown, the poll suggests it is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Her favorability ratings have risen 8 points since December, buoyed by a 22-point rise in favorability among liberal Democrats (from 65% favorable in December to 87% favorable now). Neither Trump nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have seen meaningful growth on this measure over the same time frame.

Pelosi's 42% favorable rating (47% see her unfavorably) is her best result on this question in CNN polling since April of 2007.

Positive signs for Trump

On the eve of a State of the Union address to be delivered in the Pelosi-led House, there are some positive signs for the President in the poll.

Trump's approval rating on the economy remains in positive territory (48% approve to 45% disapprove), continuing a nearly year-long streak of positive ratings on that issue. And his numbers have shifted somewhat more positive on handling foreign affairs: 40% approve, up from 36% who said so in December.

And as Americans begin preparing their first tax returns under the tax reform law passed by the President and the Republican-controlled Congress in late 2017, the poll finds 48% saying they favor the law, 40% oppose it. At the time of its passage, most were opposed to the proposals being made by Republicans in Congress (55% opposed it). Still, in the new poll, most say they see the tax reform law as doing more to benefit the wealthy (53%) than the middle class (33%).

All told, about three-quarters (76%) say the president has created significant changes in the country, about the same as said so in December 2017. A third (33%) say he's changed it for the better, 37% for the worse.

Expectations for Democrats

Looking ahead, though, the poll finds the public expects Democrats in Congress to be the pace-setters in Washington over the next two years, and for the most part, they prefer Democrats at the helm. Asked who will have more influence over the direction of the country in the next two years, 47% said the Democrats in Congress, 40% the president. And even more, 51% say they want the Democrats in Congress to hold the upper hand on the direction of the nation for the next two years, 40% would prefer the president to lead.

Similarly, a majority feel President Trump's policy proposals will move the country in the wrong direction (53%) rather than the right one (41%). That's about the same as a year ago.

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee in last year's race for governor in Georgia, is set to deliver the party's response to the President's address Tuesday. Abrams is largely unknown nationally (61% have never heard of her or have yet to form an opinion), but more who do know of her have a positive impression (23%) than a negative one (15%). Among Democrats, she merits a net-positive 41% favorable to 5% unfavorable view.

And freshman Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has swiftly made a name for herself, with nearly 6 in 10 adults holding a view of her one way or the other less than a month after taking office. Overall, 27% have a positive view, 32% a negative one. She is better known among Republicans than Democrats (33% of Republicans say they haven't heard of her or have no opinion, compared with 45% of Democrats), and more Republicans say they have a negative view of her (58%) than Democrats have a positive one (49%). Among independents, 35% have an unfavorable view, 23% a favorable one.

The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS January 30 through February 2 among a random national sample of 1,011 adults reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points, it is larger for subgroups.