Obama approval rating falls into new danger zone, weighed down by growing economic fears

Jon Ward Contributor
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President Obama’s approval rating has crossed into a new danger zone over the last month, as fresh concerns over the economy have pushed his positives and negatives into upside down territory, a development that will cause political winds to blow even harder against Democrats this fall.

One month ago on July 12, Obama’s approval and disapproval both stood at 47 percent in the Real Clear Politics poll average. On Tuesday, the president’s approval had fallen to 44.4 percent. Disapproval had jumped to 50.4 percent.

The graph illustrating the movement is stark. After muddling through the past year in parallel lines, the black line for approval has taken a nose dive and the red line for disapproval has shot up.

This movement coincides with growing fears that the economic recovery hoped for and heralded by Obama and Democrats has fallen far short of expectations and may be dissolving in the face of another downturn. The Federal Reserve’s signal of reduced confidence in the economy on Tuesday caused anxiety on Wall Street Wednesday, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 265 points.

“Malaise and stagnation are the best case and a second collapse is the worst case. You can’t take a second collapse off the table,” said market and financial analyst Jim Rickards, of Omnis.

“Those numbers are going to get worse for Obama because the economy is going to get worse,” Rickards said. “This is a depression. It’s a depression that began in 2007, and it will probably run until at least 2012, maybe 2013.”

Gallup’s daily tracking poll, which formulates its numbers differently than Real Clear Politics, shows less fluctuation. But even there, Obama has gone from 47 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval a month ago to a 45/48 spread.

“It’s clearly not where the president hoped he’d be — or thought he’d be — after passing the stimulus, health care reform, and Wall Street reform,” said Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary to President Bill Clinton. “And it just confirms what presidents who govern in bad economic times all know (or learn): they’re lashed to those job numbers like Ahab to Moby Dick.”

“Obama’s job approval might bounce around a bit in the coming months, but it won’t improve substantially until the economy shows more sustained growth — and people who want jobs can find them,” Myers said. “To his credit, I think the president understands that, and the daily ebb and flow (or ebb, in his case) doesn’t seem to rattle him too much.”

Obama did not appear concerned in comments at the White House Wednesday.

“We knew from the beginning that reversing the damage done by the worst financial crisis and the deepest recession in generations would take some time — more time than anyone would like,” he said. “So while we have fought back from the worst of this recession, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve still got a long way to go.”

But comments by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs betrayed a growing anxiety inside the administration.
“Our hope is to try to get the economy turned around not just in two or three months, but tomorrow,” Gibbs told reporters.

Ironically, Obama and Democrats would at a glance seem to have reason for a little optimism about their recent current political fortunes.

Obama himself has had a successful few weeks, at least from a traditional Washington power game perspective. He has wracked up legislative victories and confirmed his second Supreme Court Justice, even as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has finally been contained.

Additionally, Democratic lawmakers have taken heart that Republicans have tripped over themselves repeatedly as they seek to regain control of Congress. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and Gibbs, along with many other Democrats, boasted that primary elections on Tuesday showed that Democrats were nominating good candidates while Republicans were under attack by Tea Party energy from within their own party, causing them to in some cases nominate weaker candidates.

But a steady drip of bad news on the economic front has sapped much of the momentum Democrats might have hoped to build, and promises to overwhelm any tactical, money or candidate advantages that the party in power might have once November rolls around.

Job growth, which was growing but nowhere near the number needed to even begin bringing unemployment down significantly, has slowed to an anemic pace. Similarly, the economy grew at a slower pace in the second quarter of this year than during the first quarter. Again, the gross domestic product improvement is far below what is needed to actually turn the jobs picture around.

The Fed announced Tuesday that instead of reducing its balance sheet and beginning to raise interest rates, it would continue to buy Treasury securities and would keep the interest rate low.

“The pace of recovery in output and employment has slowed in recent months,” the Federal Open Market Committee said, adding that the economic recovery is “likely to be more modest in the near term than had been anticipated.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest maintained that Obama remains focused on the longer-term picture, even if it means short-term political pain.

“The Washington chattering class may be focused on the latest poll numbers – but the President and his staff are focused on moving our country forward by creating jobs and laying the foundation for our long-term economic strength,” Earnest said.

Indeed, remarks by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week indicate that Obama is already planning a 2011 governing strategy built around much larger Republican minorities in both the Senate and House, and possibly even majorities in one or both chambers.

McConnell said he was summoned to the White House last week for his first one-on-one meeting with Obama, and said he expects the president to become a “born-again moderate” when he has to work with Republicans more often over the next year.

“He’s betting all his chips on the longer term, which means 2012, rather than 2010,” Myers said. “And he has a couple things going for him: Republican overreach at the mid-term, and the cyclical nature of the economy. Things will almost certainly look better in two years than they do now.”

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