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Public is quite put off by government

The early battles in Washington this year have cemented the public's disapproval of the political system and the country's leadership, with confidence in congressional Republicans sagging and majorities still disapproving of how President Obama is handling top domestic issues, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

In a sweeping indicator of public dissatisfaction with Washington, just 26 percent of Americans now say they are optimistic about "our system of government and how well it works," a low point in polls dating to 1974. This gloomy assessment is shared by Democrats and Republicans alike, even as they agree on little else.

Large majorities in the poll say a partial shutdown of the federal government would be a "bad thing," but each side squarely blames the other for being unwilling to compromise in the ongoing budget negotiations. Fully 89 percent of Democrats say the Republicans in Congress aren't doing enough to strike a deal with the Obama administration, and 81 percent of Republicans see the president as intransigent.

Congress and the White House are approaching another deadline this week to resolve their ongoing stalemate over funding the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year.

The dividing lines are clear: On the question of finding the right balance between slashing unneeded government spending and continuing essential functions, 43 percent side with the president, 42 percent with the GOP.

When it comes to dealing with issue No. 1, the economy, Obama has an advantage: 46 percent say they put more faith in the president, 34 percent say so about the congressional Republicans. Obama has a similar 12-point lead on the question of who better understands the economic problems people face and a nine-point edge on dealing with the deficit.

Among those who say a government shutdown would be harmful, about twice as many say they would hold the GOP, rather than the president, responsible.

On the economy, trust in the GOP among independents dropped from 42 percent in January to 29 percent in the new poll. But Obama has not greatly benefited from that decline. Majorities, including most political independents, continue to say they disapprove of the president's performance on both the economy and the budget deficit.

Obama's overall approval rating stands at 51 percent, down slightly from January, with 45 percent saying they disapprove of the job he is doing.

The president has been faulted for not taking a higher-profile leadership position on the budget, a criticism he has rejected. When people were asked who they see as taking a stronger leadership role in Washington, 46 percent said Republicans in Congress; 39 percent named the president -- a tilt in the GOP's direction since December.

Still, that leaves Obama in a stronger position when compared with former President Bill Clinton after Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress in the 1994 elections. In the spring of 1995, two-thirds of all Americans saw the congressional Republicans in the dominant leadership role in Washington.

The telephone poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday, among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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