(CBS News) Americans view both major parties more negatively than in the past - and the major party nominees more negatively than they did four years ago - according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll.
"For the first time at this point in at least six elections, voters are inclined to see both the Republican and Democratic parties unfavorably," USA Today reported, citing the poll's findings. More than four in 10 Americans now call themselves independents.
Four years ago at this point in the campaign cycle, President Obama was seen favorably by 63 percent of Americans. That's down to 53 percent. While GOP presidential nominee John McCain was viewed favorably by 59 percent of Americans four years ago at this point, Mitt Romney is now viewed favorably by just 48 percent of Americans.
Negative views could be driven in part by a flood of negative advertising in swing states from outside groups not officially affiliated with either campaign. Since candidates do not need to put their name on such ads, admakers have more latitude in making the spots more negative.
The survey found that Americans are receptive to Romney's claims that Mr. Obama has run what Romney calls "gutter" campaign tactics. While Mr. Obama was seen by 30 percent of Americans as unfairly attacking his opponent four years ago, 44 percent say that he is doing so now. Forty percent say Romney is attacking Mr. Obama unfairly.
The good news? The survey found Americans are slightly more optimistic about the direction of the country. The percentage of Americans who believe the economy is improving is 35 percent - up from 18 percent four years ago - and there has been a seven-point increase (to 25 percent) in the percentage who are satisfied with how things are going in America.