ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama says he “loves” the Bush family personally and that former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush has “every right” to run in 2016.
But he made sure to praise his former secretary of state as well, adding that Hillary Clinton would make an “excellent president.”
“The Bush family, I love personally,” Obama told ABC News' World News Tonight anchor David Muir in an exclusive interview. “They are good people. Jeb's father, George H.W. has been here many times, in some cases with Jeb. And they are a great family, wonderful people. Obviously I have a lot of disagreements with Jeb and his brother on policy. But I think they have every right to do what they think is best.”
The president said of Clinton that he “think(s) so highly of her and I’ve said before and will continue to say I think she'd be an excellent president.”
Obama added that the “great thing about democracy” is that “anybody can run, even the son of and brother of former presidents.”
Earlier this week, Bush announced he would "actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States."
He didn’t set up an exploratory committee, a traditional first step for presidential contenders, but said he would set up a political action committee next month that would help him “facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation.”
Bush’s likely entry could set up a dynastic face off with Clinton, if they both run. Clinton hasn’t said she will enter the race, but told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in June she will be “on the way to making a decision by the end of the year.” More recently she has slid that decision timetable to the beginning of next year saying she will decide after the first of the year.
JP Yim/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — What does possible 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton think of the president's announcement Wednesday to normalize relations with Cuba?
One day after she condemned the torture revealed in the Senate’s interrogation report, Clinton released a statement saying she "support[s] President Obama's decision to change course on Cuba policy while keeping the focus on our principal objective -- supporting the aspirations of the Cuban people for freedom."
She said she was "deeply relieved" by Alan Gross' release, and noted when she was Secretary of State she "pushed for his release" and "stayed in touch" with his wife and daughters, while calling "for a new direction in Cuba."
"Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power," Clinton said. "As I have said, the best way to bring change to Cuba is to expose its people to the values, information, and material comforts of the outside world. The goal of increased U.S. engagement in the days and years ahead should be to encourage real and lasting reforms for the Cuban people."
US Senate(DES MOINES, Iowa) — A campaign without a candidate kicked off Wednesday night in the all-important state of Iowa. Progressive group MoveOn, joined by Democracy for America launched their effort to draft Elizabeth Warren at a coffee shop in Des Moines.
Warren wasn't there, but about 80 people reportedly showed up to check out their "Run Warren Run" campaign.
DFA officially joined the effort at the event pledging $250,000, which is on top of the $1 million MoveOn has already promised to put into the first phase of the campaign. They say they will set up offices in Iowa and New Hampshire, run ads, and assemble a "national volunteer army" on behalf of Warren. A release from DFA said 87.6 of their members are supportive of the draft Warren effort.
According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa state senate president Pam Jochum was in attendance at the event. She praised Warren, but told the Register she isn't ready to back Warren over Hillary Clinton, saying, "Not yet."
Warren has said repeatedly she won't run. These supporters are hoping to convince her to act to the contrary, even putting cash where their hopes are.
ABC/ LOU ROCCO(NEW YORK) — New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie is nearing a decision on whether he'll run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, according to nj.com.
Christie actually made the admission to a youngster at Mendham Township Middle School Wednesday when asked if he was planning to seek the presidency.
Saying that it was something he was thinking about, Christie told the assembly that he would talk about the future with his family during Christmas and finally announce his plans during "the first part of next year."
The governor tried to relate his situation with other families facing difficult choices, saying, "No matter what, I am still Andrew, Sarah, Patrick and Bridget’s father and they wonder what I am going to do for work, and I’m still Mary Pat’s husband and she wonders the same thing."
If Christie decides against running for president or fails to win the nomination, his tenure as governor ends in December 2017. Christie has already said he doesn't want to be a senator, which would rule out a run for another elected office.
As for why Christie is likely to announce his intentions in early 2015, political pundits, including former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, says that Jeb Bush likely forced his hand by forming an exploratory committee that will ultimately determine if he'll be in the race for the GOP nod.
Both Christie and Bush appeal to more moderate Republicans as well as the same high-end donors.
ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The actions of hackers who released a trove of e-mails stolen from Sony Pictures executives indicates the U.S. has not done all it can do to prevent enemies from exploiting “vulnerabilities” in our technology, President Obama said Wednesday.
“We’ve made progress,” Obama said in an exclusive interview with ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir. “But what we just saw with Sony shows a lot more progress needs to be done. That means, by the way, that Congress also needs to take up cyber security legislation that’s been languishing for several years now.”
The hackers threatened to launch a Sept. 11, 2001-style attack on theaters screening the yet-to-be-released Sony film The Interview, which depicts the fictitious assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The federal government determined that North Korea was responsible for the hack.
On Wednesday, Sony Pictures announced it was cancelling the film’s Dec. 25 release.
“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” the company said in a statement. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”
Even before Sony’s announcement, President Obama had encouraged Americans to go to the movies.
“The cyber-attack is very serious,” Obama told Muir, but added: “For now my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”
In addition, the president said authorities saw “no credible evidence” of a “serious threat to theaters.”
More of the interview with the president will air tonight on Nightline and tomorrow on Good Morning America. In the wide-ranging conversation, Muir also asked Obama about the release of American Alan Gross after five years of imprisonment in Cuba, Fidel Castro and the 2016 presidential campaign.
ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A majority of Americans have an unfavorable opinion on the individual mandate aspect of Obamacare, the latest Kaiser Family Foundation says, while a minority of Americans want the law repealed.
The poll found that 64 percent of Americans find the individual mandate -- which requires nearly all Americans to either have health insurance or pay a fine -- unfavorable. Forty-six percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Obamacare as a whole, while 41 percent take a favorable stance.
Despite its apparent unpopularity, however, the poll shows that just 31 percent want the law to be repealed, and just 12 percent want it to be scaled back. Comparatively, 24 percent believe Obamacare should be expanded and 21 percent believe it should be implemented as is.
Other aspects of the law are actually popular -- such as the employer mandate, which requires employers with 100 or more full-time workers to offer health coverage or pay a fine. About sixty percent of Americans favor the employer mandate, the Kaiser Family Foundation says.
ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama says his history-making 45-minute phone call with President Raul Castro of Cuba was “substantive” and blunt as it charted a new course for relations between the longtime rival nations.
“I was very insistent with him that we would continue to promote democracy and human rights and speak out forcefully on behalf of the freedom of the people of Cuba,” Obama said, offering exclusive new details of the secret conversation in an interview with ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir.
“I think there's the possibility by engaging, by making sure that the American people are able to travel to Cuba, that the Cuban people are able to see, firsthand, what American values are,” he said. “That is going to spur change among the people of Cuba. And that's our main objective here.”
More of the interview will air on Good Morning America at 7 a.m. ET. In the wide-ranging conversation, Muir also asked Obama about Fidel Castro, the 2016 presidential race and the Hollywood hacking scandal.
The call, which took place Tuesday, marked the highest-level contact between the U.S. and Cuba in more than 50 years.
Obama said both he and Castro delivered “lengthy” opening statements on the call before engaging each other in dialogue.
It sealed 18 months of secret negotiations that resulted in the swap of three convicted Cuban agents for a U.S. intelligence informant held more than 20 years in Cuba. Concurrently, Cuba agreed to release jailed American Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds.
The president said Pope Francis played a “very important role” in bringing the leaders together, providing both “moral authority” and practical support for the talks.
“I think this is a good first step,” Obama told Muir of the call and prisoner swap.
The president said he has immediately ordered normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and a review of Cuba’s place on a government list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“The key issue here is to use that list based on facts, not based on ideology,” Obama said. ”If in fact Cuba is not aiding or abetting terrorist organizations they shouldn’t be on the list.”
Obama said Castro, who is 83 years old, didn’t signal any change in governing style or policy during the phone call but that generational changes inside Cuba are likely to inspire a future of friendlier relations.
The president’s announcement drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Obama had “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government” and would “invite further belligerence” toward human rights and democracy advocates.
Former Florida governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush accused Obama of rewarding Cuba. “We should instead be fostering efforts that will truly lead to the fair, legitimate democracy that will ultimately prevail in Cuba,” he said in a statement on Facebook.
Obama told Muir his critics’ beliefs are sincere but misplaced.
“We have the same objective,” Obama said. “Question is, how do we achieve it. There’s no indication that by trying to ratchet up more sanctions on top of the almost unequaled sanctions we’ve been maintaining on Cuba over the past 50 years that somehow that is going to loosen the grip of the power of the Castro brothers and the one-party state there.”
The White House has drawn comparisons between the Cuba of 2014 and modern China and Vietnam.
“We have diplomatic relations with a number of countries that don’t abide by democratic practices that we believe in and human rights practices that we believe in and rule of law that we believe in,” Obama said.
“There is evidence in other countries that when we open up and engage with them -- that change happens,” he said. “The world has a way of seeping in.”
Credit: The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of eight individuals and granted pardons to 12 more.
According to the Department of Justice, the eight people whose sentences Obama shortened had been convicted of drug charges. Each of their sentences, scheduled to last until at least 2019, will now expire in either April or June of 2015.
Obama also pardoned 12 people who had been convicted on charges that included running an illegal distillery, theft of bank funds and wire fraud, among others.
Two of those pardoned were from Obama's home state of Illinois.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said Wednesday that Obama's actions in commuting the sentences of the eight individuals provided clemency to "eight individuals who were sentenced under outdated and unfair laws."
"While all eight were properly held accountable for their criminal actions, their punishments did not fit their crimes," Cole said, "and sentencing laws and policies have since been updated to ensure more fairness for low-level offenders."
US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Could the 2016 Republican presidential primary turn into a Sunshine State brawl?
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential GOP presidential candidate, responded to Tuesday's announcement by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that he would "actively explore" running for president.
"Bush is someone I admire greatly," Rubio told ABC News' Jeff Zeleny Wednesday. "I think he'd be a very formidable candidate."
Rubio declined to say whether he has spoken to Bush since his 2016 exploratory announcement on Tuesday, but said his decision wouldn't be influenced by Bush’s.
“If you decide to run for president you do so because you want to be president not you want to be president unless you want to be president first,” Rubio said. “I want to make my decision on the basis of where’s the best place for me to achieve our agenda to restore the American dream and that’s a decision we’re going to make.”
Rubio said Bush's plans do not affect his timetable of making his decision of whether he will throw his hat into the 2016 ring.
Rubio added, "We'll make a decision in due course."
ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Marking an abrupt sea change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, President Obama said on Wednesday he is open to visiting the communist Caribbean country before he leaves office.
“I don’t have any current plans, but let’s see how things evolve,” Obama told ABC News' World News Tonight anchor David Muir in an exclusive interview.
The president also told Muir he spoke by phone with Alan Gross, the American detained in Cuba for more than five years, as he flew back to Washington following his release from a Cuban prison.
“The first thing he said was, ‘Mr. President, for you I don’t mind interrupting my corned beef sandwich.’ So I told him he has mustard on his upper lip,” Obama joked. “But we had a nice conversation. He obviously is joyful about being reunited with his family.”
No sitting U.S. president has visited Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, according to the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
“I certainly wouldn't rule out a presidential visit,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier Wednesday.
“Like many Americans, he has seen that Cuba is a place where they have a beautiful climate and a lot of fun things to do,” he said. “So, if there's an opportunity for the president to visit, I'm sure he wouldn't turn it down.”
The White House says senior administration officials will immediately initiate direct contact with their Cuban counterparts to begin the process of normalizing diplomatic relations.
More of the interview will air on "World News Tonight" at 6:30 p.m. ET Wednesday. In the wide-ranging conversation, Muir also asked Obama about Fidel Castro, the 2016 presidential race and the Hollywood hacking scandal.
jzuckman/Twitter(WASHINGTON) -- Early Wednesday morning, Alan Gross lifted off on an official U.S. transport plane and landed just a few hours later on American soil for the first time since being imprisoned in Cuba five years ago.
The agreement was reached following more than a year of secret back channel talks at the highest levels of both governments. President Obama authorized high level channels of communication with the Cuban government last spring, a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday.
There were multiple meetings with Cuban officials that took place in other countries. Canada hosted the majority of these meetings and even the Vatican played a role. Pope Francis personally issued an appeal to both Cuban President Raul Castro and Obama, calling on them to resolve the imprisonment of Gross and the three Cubans in the U.S.
“I want to thank his holiness Pope Francis,” Obama said Wednesday in an address to the nation.
The pope’s personal involvement was very important to the president, the senior administration official said. Obama and Pope Francis discussed Cuba when they met at the Vatican earlier this year.
The first face-to-face discussions between the U.S. and Cuba took place in June 2013 in Canada. The prison transfer that led to Gross’ release was finalized at a meeting at the Vatican this fall. No meetings took place in Cuba or the U.S.
As part of the swap, the United States agreed to the release of three Cuban agents convicted of espionage in a controversial trial that found them guilty of spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami, but not the U.S. government. In addition to Gross, Cuba also released a “U.S. intelligence asset” who has been imprisoned for nearly 20 years. This individual, who remains unnamed, was responsible for high-level counter-intelligence for the U.S.
The “swap” was for the intelligence asset, not Gross, according to the senior administration official. The Cuban government made the additional “sovereign decision” to release 53 political prisoners whose cases the U.S. brought to their attention. The U.S. welcomes their release.
"Yesterday I spoke with Raul Castro to finalize" the release of Gross, Obama said.
The conversation was a “summing up” of the work that has been done over the past year, according to the senior administration official. They discussed issues of importance in the hemisphere, while also noting that they will have differences to come. Obama made clear his intent to maintain U.S. advocacy for human rights in Cuba.
Three U.S. lawmakers accompanied Gross on the plane ride home from Cuba, according to a statement from one of the lawmakers, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. The two others are Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
In a statement Wednesday, Leahy said he visited Gross twice in Cuba.
“Tim Rieser of my staff met with him two other times and spoke with him by phone weekly over a period of many months,” the Vermont Democrat added. “From discussions with Judy Gross, I know the pain and heartache and worry that Alan's imprisonment has meant for her and for their two daughters. I met twice with President Raul Castro, with Foreign Minister Rodriquez, and with other Cuban officials about Mr. Gross. I discussed his case many times with President Obama, Secretary Kerry and other U.S. officials, and I thank them for what they have accomplished.”
Flake called it “an honor to be with Alan as he touched down on U.S. soil after more than five years in a Cuban prison. When I visited Alan last month, he expressed the hope that his ordeal might somehow lead to positive changes between the United States and Cuba. With today's significant and far-reaching announcements, I think it already has."
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Joint Base Andrews from his European trip shortly after Gross, and met briefly with him and his family in an unplanned meeting.
McSally for Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Six weeks after Election Day, the lone Congressional race left uncalled has been decided.
Republican Martha McSally, a former Air Force colonel, has defeated Rep. Ron Barber in the race for Arizona’s 2nd Congressional district seat, once held by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. She beat her two-time opponent by just 167 votes.
On Wednesday, an Arizona judge put to rest what’s been a historic nail-biter of a rematch -- one so close it called for an automatic recount. The initial ballot count of the nearly 220,000 ballots in the district showed the congresswoman-elect ahead by a measly 161 votes. State law requires a candidate to win by more than McSally’s razor-thin margin of .08 percent.
McSally’s now final 167-ballot edge still makes for an equally stunning result to what seemed at times to be the race that wouldn’t end.
Barber was able to best McSally by roughly 2,500 votes in their first faceoff in 2012. At the time, this was considered the slightest of victories; however, compared to the newly-elected representative’s miniscule winning margin in 2014, that number now seems quite large.
The recount didn’t stop McSally from declaring victory after the first ballot count results were announced, nor from getting two impressive Capitol Hill committee assignments last week.
The first female to fly in combat, McSally is on the roster for the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee come January. She’s served abroad in the Middle East in wars and military operations. Though McSally has no formal political experience, she is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Though she picked up six votes in the recount process, McSally maintains a winning margin so low it still falls in the below .10 percent recount territory.
It was a closely watched race for many reasons, among them Barber’s relationship with his close friend and former boss, Gabby Giffords.
Giffords asked Barber to run to replace her upon deciding to retire in 2012. Barber was her district director at the time of the deadly 2011 Tucson shooting that gravely injured the former congresswoman, and sustained gunshot wounds, too.
Though Giffords did not do any in-person campaigning alongside with Barber, she appeared in two on-camera ads touting the outgoing congressman. She also sponsored several aggressive ads through her PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, attacking McSally on gun violence prevention measures she failed to support.
Even still, it was not enough for Barber to defend the seat of his former boss this time around. He joins a pack of Democrats who experienced historic defeats this election.
After clobbering Democrats in the 2014 midterms, McSally’s win means the GOP now boasts another historic achievement: Their single largest House majority since the onset of the Great Depression.
Previously tied with the 246-seat majority achieved by Republicans in 1946, the victory pushes the party just over the edge to achieve their greatest majority since 1929-31, when Republicans controlled 270 seats under President Herbert Hoover -- making it the GOP’s third highest congressional majority.
The 270-seat record is largely considered the high water mark for Republicans, and is second only to the 302 Republicans elected to the 67th Congress in 1920.
Robert Giroux/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The release of Alan Gross, the American contractor imprisoned in Cuba for more than five years, “set a price on the head of every American abroad,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in an interview Wednesday.
“I would love for there to be normal relations with Cuba, but for that to happen, Cuba has to be normal, and it's not. It is a brutal dictatorship,” Rubio, who is a Cuban-American, told ABC News' Jeff Zeleny. “Now dictatorships know that if they take an American, they may be able to get unilateral policy concessions.”
According to Rubio, the Obama administration’s intention to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba is “terrible for the Cuban people.”
The Cuban government won’t allow free elections, political parties, freedom of the press “just because people can buy Coca Cola,” said the Florida Republican, who is often mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential candidate. He added, “Five years from now, Cuba will still be a dictatorship -- but a much more profitable one.”
“I think this has now made it even harder to achieve the sort of democracy in Cuba that you find virtually everywhere else in this hemisphere,” Rubio said.
Rubio called President Obama the “worst negotiator” of “my lifetime.”
“He'll give up everything in exchange for nothing,” Rubio said. “What have the Cubans agreed to do?”
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(NEW YORK) — A slim majority of Americans support the immigration program created by Barack Obama’s executive action -- but divisions on whether he exceeded his authority impede most of the political capital he might have gained.
Overall, 52 percent support Obama’s initiative, with 44 percent opposed. But 49 percent say he exceeded his authority, 51 percent say congressional inaction on the issue doesn’t justify his approach and the public also divides closely on whether or not Congress should try to block the program.
These sharp rifts in views of Obama’s method, combined with overall post-election advances for the GOP, are limiting the benefits the president may have hoped to glean. Fifty-five percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the issue -- down by 6 points since October, but still a majority. And more now trust Republicans in Congress over Obama to handle immigration issues, by 48-39 percent, reversing an 8-point Obama advantage a year and a half ago. AUTHORITY – Even among people who support Obama’s program, a third don’t approve of his handling of immigration generally, and as many don’t pick him over the Republicans to handle the issue. That’s particularly true of those who back his initiative, but only “somewhat.”
At least some of this reflects the view that Obama acted outside his authority. Even among people who favor his program, nearly one in four thinks he exceeded his authority in creating it. In that group, 62 percent disapprove of his handling of immigration overall, regardless of the initiative; and 53 percent better trust the GOP on this issue.
RACE – Not surprisingly, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds there are very sharp racial and ethnic divisions on the issue. Obama’s executive action wins support from 72 percent of Hispanics, and an equal number of nonwhites overall, compared with 42 percent of whites.
Decidedly more Hispanics approve of the president’s handling of immigration now than in October, but that’s up from a low level -- three in 10 then, 53 percent now. It was seven in 10 percent in May 2013, when congressional action on the issue seemed near.
Approval among whites, meanwhile, has held essentially even in the past six weeks, now just 26 percent, and also trails what it was a year and a half ago, by 11 points. Further, six in 10 whites think Obama went beyond his authority; as many say that congressional inaction is not a valid reason for him to have acted and that Congress should block the program.
Many fewer Hispanics feel the same -- but that still means that even among Hispanics, three in 10 think that Obama overstepped his authority and that congressional gridlock was an insufficient rationale for acting. One in four Hispanics, moreover, feels that Congress should block the program from going forward. Views among nonwhites overall are similar.
Additionally, the number of Hispanics who trust the GOP over Obama to handle this issue has doubled, from 16 percent in May 2013 to 34 percent now, likely reflecting hesitation about the way immigration reform has been achieved. Whites’ preferences for the GOP over Obama also have grown -- from a 45-36 percent split a year and a half ago to 59-27 percent now.
One takeaway is that even Hispanics are not monolithic in their attitudes on immigration. That should not be a surprise; while 46 percent of Hispanics are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, an additional 33 percent are Republicans, or lean that way.
GROUPS – There also are profound political and ideological differences in views of Obama’s immigration program. Eight in 10 Democrats and 73 percent of liberals support it, compared with a quarter of Republicans and a third of conservatives. Independents and moderates fall in between, with 51 and 58 percent supporting the initiative, respectively.
Eight in 10 Republicans think Obama exceeded his authority, while an equal number of Democrats think he did not; independents divide, 51-45 percent. Views of the president’s rationale for acting, and whether Congress should try to block the program, are similarly divided.
Further, approval of Obama’s handling of immigration issues has increased by 14 and 13 points since mid-October among independents and Democrats, respectively, while holding essentially steady among Republicans. But even with that gain Obama has just 34 percent approval on the issue from independents, and they prefer the GOP in trust to handle it, by 47-37 percent.
Among other groups, support for Obama’s executive action peaks at 64 percent among adults younger than 30, compared with 45 percent among seniors. And approval for Obama’s handling of immigration overall has increased disproportionately among young adults, from 27 percent six weeks ago to 46 percent now -- better, but still less than half. METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 11-14, 2014, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including design effect.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.
Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats has dropped to a record low in nearly 34 years of ABC News/Washington Post polls, marking the party’s challenges after its poor showing in the 2014 midterm elections. The Republican Party, by contrast, has gained sharply in popularity, if not allegiance.
Just 26 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Democrats, down from 32 percent six weeks ago to the fewest since ABC/Post polling began in 1981.
The GOP has not benefitted in terms of direct allegiance: Twenty-three percent of Americans describe themselves as Republicans, essentially unchanged from recent levels. Instead 41 percent say they’re independents, extending a six-year run as the dominant choice.
But the GOP has gained in other gauges. Forty-seven percent see it favorably overall, up by a remarkable 14 percentage points since mid-October to its best among the general public since March 2006. Forty-four percent rate the Democrats favorably -- also up since the heat of the midterm elections has eased, but just by 5 points. The Republican Party’s numerical advantage in this basic measure of popularity is its first since 2002.
The Republicans in Congress, moreover, lead Barack Obama by 47-38 percent in trust to handle the economy, a clear GOP advantage on this central issue for the first time in his presidency.
Beyond the economy, 43 percent also trust the Republicans over Obama to handle the nation’s main problems in general, while 39 percent pick Obama -- not a meaningful difference in this case, but the first time the GOP has held even a numerical advantage vs. Obama on the question. And with no help from his initiative on immigration, the president trails the GOP by 9 points in trust to handle that issue, as well.
Obama has a 41 percent job approval rating in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates; that’s a single point from his career low, with 54 percent disapproving. His rating on the economy is essentially flat; 52 percent disapprove, despite recent economic gains. Fifty-four percent disapprove of his work on international affairs, a steadily negative majority since September. And while he’s gained 9 points on handling immigration, that’s only to 38 percent approval, with 55 percent disapproving on this issue.
ECONOMY? – The irony in these results is that the economy’s off the floor. Sixty-nine percent are optimistic about their own finances in the year ahead, the most since 2007 (albeit narrowly). And 54 percent are optimistic about the national economy, similar to last year but up from a low of 40 percent in early 2008. Other measures of consumer sentiment have improved recently.
The conclusion is that while a bad economy almost always damages a president, an improving one doesn’t automatically help. That’s clear in the survey results: Two years ago there were fewer economic optimists, but, on the heels of Obama’s re-election, 80 percent of them approved of his overall job performance. Today, there are more optimists, but many fewer of them approve of Obama -- just 55 percent. The rest see other things to criticize.
It’s true, too, that the economy’s improvement has left many Americans cold. Just two in 10 are highly optimistic about the economy; a third feels the same about their own finances. And far short of a majority, 41 percent, say their personal finances have been substantially boosted by easing gas and oil prices, including 25 percent who report a great deal of help. (That may still be plenty, though, to help keep registers ringing in the holiday shopping season.)
HISTORY – There’s historical precedent for the Democratic Party’s troubles. The GOP lost 6 points in allegiance after its midterm drubbing in 2006. The Democrats also lost ground, albeit less steeply, after their losses in the 1994 and 2010 midterms. The difference this time is that Democrats, who customarily outnumber Republicans, are at a new low.
That shows in another result, the number of adults who either identify themselves with one of the parties or say they lean that way. So-called “leaned” Democrats now account for 42 percent of adults; leaned Republicans account for 43 percent.
While that single-point difference is well within the poll’s margin of sampling error, it’s only the seventh time in hundreds of ABC/Post polls since 1981 that the GOP has been on the positive side of the ledger. The last was in June 2003, in the early days of the then-popular war in Iraq.
Earlier results have presaged the Democrats’ weakness. The party hit a 30-year low in favorability and a 20-year high in disapproval of its members of Congress in separate ABC/Post polls in October.
OBAMA – The Democratic Party’s woes are linked closely with the president’s. His approval rating has averaged just 43 percent in 2014, his worst year by a significant margin. That’s not as bad a sixth year as George W. Bush’s, but far weaker than Bill Clinton’s in the growing economy of 1998 (his impeachment notwithstanding), or Ronald Reagan’s, likewise in a growth cycle.
Further, as the country’s slogged through the deepest downturn since the Great Depression, Obama’s career-long approval rating, 50 percent on average, lags those of all three of his immediate two-term predecessors at this point in their presidencies.
As with his party, previous results have indicated the president’s problems. He reached career lows in both favorability and empathy -- understanding the problems of “people like you” -- in a pre-election ABC/Post poll. His career low job approval, 40 percent, was Oct. 12.
Obama’s current job approval rating is especially weak in some groups. He’s at 29 percent approval among whites, the lowest of his presidency; not only do 67 percent disapprove, but a majority, 53 percent, does so strongly. Nearly two-thirds of nonwhites, by contrast, approve of Obama’s work in office.
The president’s getting little help from other issues. For only the second time, numerically more Americans disapprove than approve of his handling of terrorism, 48-43 percent, an issue that long was his best. Still, it’s the only one in this poll in which disapproval doesn’t reach a majority.
GOP GAINS – While Obama’s in a trough, the Republican Party is on a roll, with notable breadth in its advances in favorability. It’s gained 17 points since October in the number of independents who see the party positively, as well as 12 points among Republicans themselves. And its favorability is up by 12 to 15 points among liberals, moderates and conservatives alike, albeit with still-sharp differences among them.
The improvement has been much needed by the GOP, which saw its fortunes fall sharply during George W. Bush’s unpopular second term. The question for the party now is whether it can seize the opportunity to gain not just popularity, but personal affiliation. For Obama and the Democrats, it’s whether they’re looking at just a post-election stumble -- or something more lasting.
In the meantime, the country is ever more firmly one in which independents predominate over both of the main political parties. That’s been the case continuously in annual averages since 2009, making for the longest and strongest run of independents on record. With their looser links to partisan preferences, independents often introduce volatility into election politics -- precisely what’s occurred in recent cycles. As the parties try to sort themselves out, more of that instability may be the likeliest story ahead.
METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 11-14, 2014, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including design effect. Partisan divisions are 26-23-41 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.