WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's poll numbers crashed to new lows ahead of his crucial speech Thursday aimed at tackling zero US job growth and reviving his own political fortunes.
Opinion polls revealed a mood of deep pessimism in the American electorate, amid high unemployment and economic anxiety, and suggested an unpredictable run-up to the 2012 election with Republicans stung by even higher unpopularity.
Pollster Peter Hart, who conducted a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, warned that if the president's political fortunes did not turn around soon "Obama is no longer favorite to win reelection."
The Journal poll put Obama's overall approval rating after a summer of political bloodletting at just 44 percent, with only 37 percent of those asked satisfied with his management of the economy.
In a sign some voters have already written him off, 54 percent believed that Obama faced a long-term setback from which he was unlikely to recover.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll put Obama's disapproval rating at 53 percent, and 77 percent said the country was on the wrong track. Thirty-four percent said Obama's economic policies had done more harm than good.
A Politico/George Washington University battleground poll meanwhile found 72 percent of voters thought the country was heading strongly or somewhat in the wrong direction in a blunt warning sign for incumbent politicians.
The miserable polling data followed a grim August for Obama in which Standard and Poor's downgraded Washington's top debt rating and the economy created no net jobs at a time of crushing 9.1 percent unemployment.
It also underscored the importance of Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress on Thursday, designed to lay out a new jobs plan, which may be his last chance to reboot the economy before election season begins in earnest.
Republican candidates are already hammering Obama's economic record and touting their own jobs plans.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was Tuesday laying out a plan including 59 specific proposals to turn around the economy, which he said would use government to create conditions where private firms can create jobs.
Romney would cut taxes for individuals and corporations, pare back regulations Republicans say are hampering the business sector, and unleash new free trade policies while ending the US "trade surrender" to China.
The opinion polls released Tuesday however suggested that Republicans, as well as Obama, face a volatile electorate.
In the Wall Street Journal/NBC survey, 82 percent of voters disapproved of Congress -- half of which is controlled by Republicans.
Obama narrowly outpolled the most likely Republican presidential nominees, Romney by 46 to 45 percent and Texas Governor Rick Perry by 47 to 42 percent.
In one ray of light for Obama, the NBC poll also found that though many are souring on his policies and the competence of his administration, 70 percent of voters still found their president likable.
The Politico poll found 74 percent of voters strongly or somewhat approve of Obama as a person, offering the president a foundation on which to build his campaign for a second term.
Analysts who conducted the polls suggested the Washington showdown in July over raising US government borrowing authority had hurt Obama and his Republican foes.
On Thursday, Obama will try to turn the page with his televised speech, and has warned he will accuse Republicans of putting party before country if they block his economic plans.
"We are going to see if we have got some straight shooters in Congress," he told supporters in Detroit Monday.
"Show us what you got," he said.
Obama's plan will contain an extension of a payroll tax cut for workers and spending on infrastructure projects to put the construction sector back to work.
Officials say Obama will also challenge Republicans to agree deficit cuts of higher than the $1.5 trillion mandate of a congressional "supercommittee" charged with cutting spending.
But Republicans promise a lukewarm reception for Obama's plans, warning they will block efforts to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and arguing Obama should free the corporate sector from regulatory constraints.