WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Americans, who are suffering from high gasoline prices, believe the United States is on the wrong track by a large margin, presenting a fresh challenge for President Barack Obama, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Wednesday.
The proportion of Americans who believe the country is on the right track dropped 7 points in the past month to 31 percent, and 64 percent think the country is on the wrong track.
It was the highest number of people in an Ipsos poll who believe the country is going in the wrong direction since Obama took office in January 2009.
Ipsos pollster Cliff Young said the rating was a direct result of gasoline prices that have risen sharply in recent weeks as a result of tumult in North Africa and the Middle East.
“We are moving into a scenario in the near-term that is much more uncertain given the issue of gas prices,” he said. “Gas prices specifically are things that affect people’s pocketbooks and have an immediate impact.”
U.S. retail gasoline prices spiked more than 10 percent over the past two weeks to an average of $3.52 a gallon, the second largest two-week rise on record. Crude oil prices have shot up due to the violence in Libya that has cut that country’s production by two-thirds while sanctions have all but halted its exports.
February survey had said Americans by 57 percent to 38 percent believed the country was on the right track.
Obama’s job approval rating dropped from last month to 49 percent from 51 percent, a statistically insignificant change.
But his approval among independent voters who he will need for his 2012 re-election drive took a sharp dive, to 37 percent from 47 percent, the poll found.
The poll showed the slow-starting Republican race to find a challenger to Obama in 2012 is wide open.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has a 36 percent favorable rating while former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has a long way to go to achieve name recognition, with 59 percent saying they “don’t know” what they think of him.
Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich has the best name recognition, with only 26 percent saying they “don’t know” when asked about him.
Weighing in on the Washington budget debate, 59 percent of Americans prefer to cut existing programs while 30 percent would rather raise taxes to reduce deficit spending.
And they prefer to cut defense spending rather than programs that affect them more directly like Medicare and Social Security.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jackie Frank).
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