Published on TheHill.com on March 17, 2008
He may not be paying much attention to the stock market, where $11 trillion of pensions, investments and 401(k)s have been destroyed, but you can be sure that President Obama is paying attention to the polls showing diminishing support for his policies.
Of course, in presidential polling, all numbers are not equally important. Obama got 52 percent of the national vote. So when his approval drops, as it has, from 65 percent on Inauguration Day to 56 percent now (according to Rasmussen), he is playing with house money. Most of those who are coming to negative conclusions about his administration didn’t vote for him in the first place.
But there are ominous signs in the data.
So far, Obama’s administration has been characterized by two main programs: the stimulus spending and bank bailouts. But the polls indicate problems with each pillar of his package.
The public generally approves of his stimulus proposals. CNN found that voters approved of his economic program in general by 59-40, while Pew Research discovered that they backed his stimulus program specifically by 56-35.
But the problem is that voters don’t think the stimulus package will work. CNN’s poll, while showing broad approval of his programs, also found that voters did not believe his economic proposals would work, by 22-64. In fact, the CBS survey data indicates that 48 percent feel that the “economy would improve without government intervention”, while only 41 percent agreed that intervention was “necessary”.
If voters approve of the stimulus program, even while they are pessimistic about its impact and question its necessity, they are downright hostile to the bank bailouts. CBS found that they disapproved of the bailouts by 37-53 and noted that “48 percent are mostly resentful toward Obama’s policies toward banks and financial institutions”. While Pew found 48-40 approval of the bailouts, it also noted that 87 percent are “bothered by the bank bailout”.
So Obama has one program that is popular but won’t work and another that is downright unpopular.
And his presidency is dependent on how they work out.
Clinton could sustain his presidency with small-bore initiatives. But Obama can’t. Stem cell research is well and good, but its not the central concern of the nation at the moment.
Some news organizations like to compare how Obama is doing with how other presidents fared. Specifically, at this point in their presidencies, George W. Bush was at 58 percent approval while Clinton stood at 53 percent. By that measurement, Obama’s 56 percent would seem in the normal range.
But Clinton won with only 42 percent of the vote in 1992, and Bush got 49 percent. Obama, of course, won 52 percent of the vote. So here’s how the vote-to-popularity ratio stacks up:
- Clinton: Vote 42%; Job Approval 53%; Difference +11%
- W. Bush: Vote 49%; Job Approval 58%; Difference + 9%
- Obama: Vote 52%; Job Approval 56%; Difference + 4%
…not very good.
And let’s remember that Clinton lost control of Congress in 1994 while Bush’s presidency – heading downward” was saved by his excellent response to Sept. 11.
But presidential popularity is not going to be the key determinant of Obama’s political success or failure. The unemployment rate is going to fill the role of political harbinger. And that front is unlikely to be favorable. Despite the current reports of a false dawn – based on ratings that, while still dropping, have slowed somewhat in their descent – we are in for a long, hard haul in trying to turn this economy around. And Obama’s vigorous pronouncements that he plans to raise taxes in two years are not going to help induce the economy’s most prodigious spenders – the wealthy – to step up to the checkout counter.
Obama’s fate is deeply linked to the economy. These days, that’s like being tied to an anchor.