Obama’s leadership ranking with independents tanking

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The decisive bloc of swing-voting independents increasingly dismisses President Barack Obama as a weak leader, according to a new poll from Resurgent Republic, a GOP-linked advocacy group.

Obama’s much-hyped speech to a rare joint session of Congress on Thursday may worsen his ratings among those critical swing voters, said Ed Gillespie, a Resurgent Republic board member and the former head of the Republican National Committee. If Obama does not offer a bold vision, he said, “the American people will wonder ‘What was all that about?’… and [he will] reinforce their concerns about him being a weak leader.”

Resurgent’s latest poll, released today, shows that only 7 percent of independents believe Obama to be a much stronger leader than they expected, while 36 percent rated him as much weaker. The same poll showed that 17 percent believe him to be somewhat stronger, while 29 percent think him to be somewhat weaker.

Overall, 24 percent of independents think he is stronger, while 67 percent believe he is weaker. Eleven percent of respondents said they had no opinion.

Asked if Obama deserves re-election, 56 percent of independents said it is “time for someone else.” Only 36 percent of independents said Obama deserves re-election.

The poll of 1,000 voters was conducted by Ayres, McHenry & Associates in the last three days of August, which proved to be a disastrous month for the president’s standing.

The low ratings are not caused merely by Obama’s role in the stalled economy, said Whit Ayres, the pollster who conducted the poll and a board member at Resurgent Republic. “The doubts go to the heart of his presidency … [I]ndependents were looking for a unifying leader who can get things done, and they don’t see that now in President Obama.”

Obama’s congressional speech on Thursday night can further imprint that perspective, said Leslie Sanchez, also a Resurgent Republic board member. Should he make proposals that can’t be passed, he would be “calcifying the idea that he’s an excellent speaker, but can’t implement.”

“If he comes out with the same-old, same-old, it will not help in the long run.” said Ayres. “He has to come out with something new, something different, something other than blaming Republicans, for this [speech] to work for him,” he said.

Independents “like energy in the executive.” Gillespie said. Obama’s recent complaint about his frustration with GOP leaders, he added, “is an incredible admission of weakness on his part, and he does it time and again, and people are picking up on that.”

On Aug. 31, for example, after GOP leaders in the House rejected Obama’s announcement that he would speak to Congress on September 7 — the same date that GOP presidential candidates were to hold a debate in California — Obama’s campaign team sent out an email under his name to supporters, saying the president was “frustrated” with GOP policies.

“It’s been a long time since Congress was focused on what the American people need them to be focused on. I know that you’re frustrated by that. I am, too,” said the message from Obama.

The blame-game rhetoric wins positive attitudes from only 51 percent of people, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said in June. In contrast, speeches that offer messages about shared growth and shared burdens, of investment and opportunities, score above 60 percent among voters, said Greenberg, who was the lead pollster for President Bill Clinton.

Fire and brimstone negative-campaigning moments, like Monday’s incendiary comments Teamsters President James Hoffa, may spur the base, but they further alienate decisive independent voters, warned Ayres. Those voters “hate finger-pointing and blame-mongering … [and negative rhetoric] doesn’t help him be an unifying leader, it makes him seem like another partisan hack,” Ayres said.

Overall, 32 percent of poll respondents believed Obama’s leadership is stronger than expected, and 60 percent believe it is weaker.

“The stakes are huge, and he made the stakes higher by calling for a joint session,” Gillespie said. “I wonder if they’re having second thoughts about that.”

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