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Poll: Obama's overseas efforts meet with disapproval

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama gets mediocre marks for his handling of international conflicts flaring up this summer, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. But yet another overseas crisis has emerged as a headache: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When it comes to how Obama has dealt with the increasing tensions in Gaza, the survey shows, 39 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove, with one-third disapproving "strongly."

The negative marks come as Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry urged an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli airstrikes followed by a ground invasion have pummeled Hamas militants but also killed hundreds of civilians. The push to rein in Israel is risky for the Obama administration, given the United States' long-standing alliance with Israel — support that was confirmed in a separate Pew Research Center survey released Monday that found that more people blame Hamas for the current violence.

The reason Obama is weak on the Israeli-Palestinian issue? Subpar support in his party and among younger people — a key Democratic Party constituency in recent years. Sixty-five percent of Democrats approve of the president's efforts, far lower than the 77 percent who approve of his foreign policy overall. Likewise, although respondents ages 18 to 39 split evenly on Obama's general handling of foreign policy (47 percent apiece), this age group disapproves of his efforts in the Middle East by a 21-point margin, 54 to 33. Separate surveys from the Pew Research Center and Gallup have found that younger Americans are significantly more skeptical of Israel's actions than are older Americans.

Even as Obama struggles with yet another overseas issue, though, his overall approval rating on foreign affairs has recovered somewhat. The Post-ABC poll finds that 46 percent approve of his handling of international affairs. That's up from 41 percent approval in June and better than his overall job ratings in other public surveys. An additional 50 percent disapprove — a number that is unchanged in the past month (accounting for the difference in approval: Fewer in the new survey volunteered "no opinion").

As with many things, though, Obama's detractors are more passionate than his supporters. More than twice as many "strongly" disapprove as "strongly" approve of his performance — 36 percent to 16 percent. The poll was conducted July 23-27 among a random national sample of 1,026 adults reached on conventional and cellular phones; overall results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.

Obama also receives narrowly positive marks — 46 percent approval and 43 percent disapproval — for his handling of the controversy surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over Ukraine. Last week, the Obama administration released satellite images and other sensitive intelligence that it said demonstrated Russian complicity in downing the airliner.

But overall, the new Post-ABC survey adds to evidence of the public's broad disappointment with Obama's weathering of international crises. As Iraq lost control of vast swaths of its territory to Sunni insurgents in June, a Post-ABC poll found 52 percent disapproving of how he dealt with the issue. In mid-July, nearly six in 10 disapproved of his handling of an influx of illegal, unaccompanied minors crossing the Mexican border.

Previously, Obama received poor marks for his handling of foreign affairs related to Russia, Syria and Iran, among others.

Those lackluster ratings have not translated to a solidly negative grade on foreign affairs altogether in the new Post-ABC poll, or a noticeable drop in his approval rating overall.

At the same time, such crises have taken attention away from some rare economic progress and a rise in employment, which have not cut through the public's long-standing negative outlook for the United States. And at a time when Democrats are worried about Obama's down-ballot effect in some key Senate races in red states, it's pretty clear that Americans don't see a strong leader in the White House.
 

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