Nearly six in 10 Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, a sobering assessment for President Obama and his party with less than 100 days to the midterm elections.
The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found 58 percent believe the country is headed in the wrong direction to 32 percent who think it's on the right track.
"There is a general sense of gloom," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University. "We are in this huge mess, trying to get out, and meanwhile the economy is still broken."
The right track/wrong track question is generally viewed by pollsters as the most reliable gauge of public sentiment, reflecting how respondents feel about their own situation and the state of the nation.
The Obama administration has been touting this as "Recovery Summer," but so far have found little purchase for their message that the economy is improving.
"While we have fought back from the worst of this recession, we've still got a lot of work to do," Obama said this week at the White House. "We've still got a long way to go. And I'm more determined than ever to do every single thing we can to hasten our economic recovery and get our people back to work."
Goldford noted that President Reagan also suffered widespread public discontent over the economy in 1982. The catalyst that turned it around was economic recovery, something that so far has eluded Democratic efforts.
"People are just frustrated because nothing seems to be getting better," said Keir Murray, a Democratic strategist. "I heard someone say and it's true -- if unemployment was at 5 percent and not close to 10 [percent], it would be a very different situation."
Beyond the economy, a separate poll by Gallup found Obama with less than majority approval on 12 of 13 key issues.
Just 44 percent said they approve of his handling of foreign policy, 41 percent approve of his management of the war in Iraq, and 40 percent approve of his health care policy.
The only issue playing well for Obama, with 52 percent approving, was race relations -- a topic he tries to avoid discussing in public.
"This Democratic Congress, along with the president, have been among the most productive that we have seen in decades," said Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida. "The problem is that the biggest, signature policies they passed don't seem very popular with the public."
Democrats had planned to campaign on issues including health care reform, stimulus spending, the war in Iraq and immigration.
But immigration -- which Obama began pushing recently, calling for a comprehensive reform effort -- is the area where he gets the lowest marks from Gallup. Just 29 percent approved of his handling of the issue.
"People wanted change and Obama as a candidate tapped into that," Jewett said. "But the underlying, fundamental ideology hasn't changed -- this is still a center-right country."