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Obama, Republicans Get Mixed Reviews in Opinion Polls

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New public opinion polls show that President Barack Obama and both major U.S. political parties face a challenging political climate in the months ahead.

Two recent surveys - one by ABC News and The Washington Post newspaper, the other by the Gallup organization - show President Obama's job approval rating at 51 percent.  Another new poll by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found that 45 percent of Americans approve of the job the president is doing, while 46 percent disapprove.

The surveys also show many Americans are losing faith in government and are frustrated at the lack of bipartisan cooperation in Washington - on issues ranging from the economy to health care to national security.

The ABC-Washington Post poll found that two-thirds of those surveyed are dissatisfied or angry about the way the government is working.  The Quinnipiac poll found that only 16 percent of those questioned believe the government does what is right, while 27 percent said the government hardly ever does the right thing.

President Obama has made more of an effort in recent weeks to reach out to Republicans, so far with mixed results.

"That is what the American people are demanding of us.  I think they are tired of every day being Election Day in Washington.  And at this critical time in our country, the people [who] sent us here expect a seriousness of purpose that transcends petty politics," he said.

Republicans say they are open to the idea of cooperation, but warn they will go only so far when it comes to issues like taxes, government spending and a larger government role in health care.

Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas says it is now up to Democrats in Washington to listen and change course.

" We are willing to work with them.  But we will continue to stand on principle.  We will oppose more reckless Washington spending and we will fight for better solutions that make government live within its means," he added.

Public opinion polls show Democrats continue to stand by President Obama while Republicans overwhelmingly oppose his policies.  The president's poll numbers have weakened in recent months, in part, because independent voters have become disenchanted with Mr. Obama's health care reform plan and with the overwhelmingly partisan nature of the political debate in Washington.

Peter Brown is with the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"Independent voters are more likely to find calls for bipartisanship appealing.  They expect their elected officials to get the job done.  Independents, by and large, are much more pragmatic.  They want the job done," he said.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats in Congress are viewed favorably in the latest polls.  But the Republican victory in the recent Senate election in Massachusetts and last year's victories in governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia have Republicans expecting major gains in the midterm congressional elections in November.

Democrats have been urging President Obama to draw more attention to Republican blocking tactics toward legislation in Congress that Peter Brown says could become an issue in this year's congressional races.

"Obviously, the Republicans are doing better vis-à-vis Democrats than they were six months or a year ago," said Brown.  "But the public doesn't like politicians who don't do things.  So that if the public were to perceive the Republicans as obstructionists, that would be very bad for the Republicans," he said.

Despite all of the recent talk about bipartisanship, political experts like Brian Darling of The Heritage Foundation say the focus for both major parties will increasingly shift to the November elections.

"And as you get closer and closer to Election Day, Republicans and Democrats aren't going to want to work together.  They want to start creating campaign themes to show that they're the party that needs to continue in leadership or to change the leadership," said Darling.

All of the surveys show that the domestic economy and jobs remain the top issues for voters, and that early support for a bipartisan measure in the Senate aimed at job creation was one of the few concrete signs that Democrats and Republicans are willing to work together, even during an election year.

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