The latest Gallup daily approval ratings show that fewer than half of Americans approve of the job President Obama has done since taking office one year ago. Even worse for congressional Democrats facing a tough election this November, those ratings historically trend downwards during a president’s second year, making it unlikely that the administration will see a reversal before voters head to the polls for the mid-term.
Only two recent presidents have seen their popularity increase during their second year in office – George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
“The bloom is off the rose,” said Rhodes Cook, independent political analyst and pollster. In his December newsletter, Rhodes noted that Obama’s approval rating fell 21 points during his first year in office, the largest first-year decline for any president since Gallup began tracking presidential approval ratings in the 1930s. Most of that decline can be traced to Obama’s steadily decreasing popularity with independents; he remains loved by respondents who identify as Democrats and loathed by most Republicans.
Of course one reason Obama’s ratings have fallen so far in such a short period is that he started out with much higher public approval than any other recent president. Obama began with an approval rating near 70 while both Clinton and George W. Bush began in the 50s. So while his recent slide has merely brought him into line with where predecessors, that fact will be cold comfort to Democrats facing the voters this autumn.
“It’s not all tea-partiers,” Rhodes Cook said of the increasingly dissatisfied electorate. “These are also white-collar suburban voters, they are very rational. They would like to be for Obama. A lot of it has to do with a bit of presidential weakness.”
Rhodes Cook said that perceived weakness is mainly due to the administration’s failure to produce tangible success on major legislative goals such as health insurance reform, as well as the recent electoral defeats Democrats have suffered in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey. But critics have also started questioning the administration’s focus health care and climate change during a time when the country faces its highest unemployment rate in a quarter-century.
National Journal political analyst and Cook Report publisher Charlie Cook [no relation] echoed that view in his column this week, writing that the Democrats’ pursuit of those issues in lieu of addressing the economic situation have cost them politically:
Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health-care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.
The latest unemployment and housing numbers underscore the folly of their decision to pay so much attention to health care and climate change instead of focusing on the economy “like a laser beam,” as President Clinton pledged to do during his 1992 campaign. Although no one can fairly accuse Obama and his party’s leaders of ignoring the economy, they certainly haven’t focused on it like a laser beam.
Polling results released today by the National Federation of Independent Businesses from 16 states including key swing states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia seemingly confirm those sentiments, as the surveys indicate that 52 percent of the voters surveyed oppose a federal cap-and-trade system, with 42 percent believing it would lead to further job losses. Given those numbers and the current economic climate, pursuing any legislation the public views as harmful to the economy would seem politically untenable.
What, if anything, can the administration do to halt the slide? Dave Wasserman, House editor at the Cook Political Report thinks the answer comes down to one major factor; “The economy, the economy, the economy,” Wasserman said on Thursday. Rhodes Cook said regardless of what happens economically, the Democrats must change course if they want to avoid major losses this fall.
“They need to correct course or find a correct course. Where they are now is not working politically,” he said.
Of course it’s probably too early to be pushing the panic button. Even with Scott Brown’s election to the Senate this week the Democrats still hold large majorities in both houses and have a full 10 months until the midterm. Plus as Rhodes Cook pointed out, the Republican brand is fairly weak at the moment as well.
“This is a very fluid time. People are unhappy and the party in power will tend to get blamed,” Cook said.
The White House appears to be listening; on Thursday Obama struck a populist note during his speech on financial regulatory reform.
“While Wall Street may be recovering you and I know your main streets still have a long way to go,” Obama said in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.