The Hill Poll: Voters blame president most for slow economic recovery

Two-thirds of likely voters say the weak economy is Washington’s fault, and more blame President Obama than anybody else, according to a new poll for The Hill.

It found that 66 percent believe paltry job growth and slow economic recovery is the result of bad policy. Thirty-four percent say Obama is the most to blame, followed by 23 percent who say Congress is the culprit. Twenty percent point the finger at Wall Street, and 18 percent cite former President George W. Bush.

The results highlight the reelection challenge Obama faces amid dissatisfaction with his first-term performance on the economy.

The poll, conducted for The Hill by Pulse Opinion Research, found 53 percent of voters say Obama has taken the wrong actions and has slowed the economy down. Forty-two percent said he has taken the right actions to revive the economy, while six percent said they were not sure.

Obama has argued throughout the presidential campaign that his policies have made the economy better. He says recovery is taking a long time because he inherited such deep economic trouble upon taking office in 2009.

“The problems we’re facing right now have been more than a decade in the making,” he told an audience last month in Cleveland.

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Obama’s campaign, under the slogan “Forward,” has sought to steer voter attention less toward current and past economic performance and more toward questions about Republican Mitt Romney’s work in the private sector economy. It has launched attacks on the challenger’s role as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital, casting him as a jobs “outsourcer” whose firm shipped thousands of U.S. positions overseas.

The Hill Poll, however, shows the extent to which voters hold Obama responsible for the economy and reveals his vulnerability should the election become primarily a referendum on his economic management.

It finds that voters strongly believe more could have been done by the White House and in Congress to achieve growth in the economy and employment. 

While 64 percent of voters consider this downturn to be “much more severe” than previous contractions, barely one quarter (26 percent) say the agonizingly slow pace of the recovery was unavoidable.

While voters feel Obama carries a greater portion of the blame than others, the poll found almost 6-in-10 are unhappy with the actions of Republicans in Congress who have challenged the president on an array of policy initiatives.

Fifty-seven percent of voters said congressional Republicans have impeded the recovery with their policies, and only 30 percent overall believe the GOP has done the right things to boost the economy.

The tension between a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Democratic-run White House has also featured in Obama’s campaign strategy.

In his economic speech last month in Cleveland, Obama cast the 2012 election as a chance to choose between two competing visions for the nation.

“What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take,” he said. “This election is your chance to break that stalemate.”

Romney agrees that the election is a choice between two radically different views of America, but he characterizes it as a contest between his own vision of an industrious people free to achieve their dreams and Obama’s faith in big government. 

If there is a silver lining for Obama in the poll results, it’s that centrist voters, who may well decide the 2012 outcome, tend to blame Republicans in Congress more than the president for hindering a more robust recovery.

Twenty-six percent of centrists cited Congress as most to blame for U.S. economic woes, compared to 20 percent who blame Obama.

Similarly, 53 percent of centrists said Obama has taken the right actions as president to boost the economy, compared with 38 percent who said he had taken the wrong steps.

Seventy-nine percent of centrist voters said Republicans had slowed the economy by taking wrong actions. Only 13 percent of centrists credited GOP lawmakers with policies that have helped the economy.

The poll found sharp differences in opinions along racial lines, with 94 percent of African-Americans saying Obama had taken the right actions on the economy, compared to 34 percent of white voters. 

The Hill poll was conducted July 19 among 1,000 likely voters, and has a 3 percentage point margin of error.

UPDATED: This story has been updated to show correct date the poll was conducted.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.