Recent polls have not been good news for the White House. Even
President Obama’s personal popularity has dropped into negative
territory. Can he recover to make his second term a success?
By Brad Knickerbocker
For years, it seems, Barack Obama had a golden political glow about him.
Following a knock-out keynote speech at the Democratic National
Convention in 2004, he rode a short stint in the US Senate to the
White House just four years later, handily winning re-election four
years after that. The African meaning of his first name — “blessed” —
Along the way, and with the help of Democratic majorities in the House
and Senate, he won what is likely to be seen as his most important
piece of legislation: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms, and the Tea Party
movement roiled things further for Obama, whose race and parentage
remained an issue for a small but persistent element of “birthers” and
those never able to accept a black man as president.
Although he made light of it, the Affordable Care Act became
“Obamacare” to those who viewed it as fatally flawed if not the end of
Feeling their political oats (not to mention the hot breath of
potential Tea Party challengers from the right) Republican lawmakers
pushed ever harder on everything from budgets to presidential
But through it all, Obama’s poll numbers — especially his personal
popularity — remained relatively solid.
Now, that political glow has begun to dim.
Whether or not it’s just lame duckism with voters looking for the next
new thing, or disappointment at the perception of failed policies and
goals unattained — immigration, war in Afghanistan dragging on,
Benghazi, Syria’s chemical weapons, NSA spying, certainly the
miserable roll-out of the Affordable Care Act — Obama’s numbers have
sagged appreciably… even his personal popularity.
In his radio/Internet address Saturday, Obama said the main thing
that’s undermined the US economy in recent years is “the constant
cycle of manufactured crisis and self-inflicted wounds” — a clear
reference to the recent partial government shutdown, which he blames
“I know that what you often hear out of Washington can sound like
Charlie Brown’s teacher — a jumble of unfocused noise that’s out of
touch with the things you care about,” he said, again mainly a
reference to the GOP.
Increasingly, voters see Obama as part of the problem.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out this week has his job
approval rating at just 42 percent, with 51 percent disapproval. While
most analysts, pollsters, and pundits put most of the blame for the
shutdown on Republicans, by a 41-21 percent margin respondents say
they have a less favorable impression of President Obama after the
shutdown rather than a more favorable one, NBC News reported.
And for the first time in the survey, even Obama’s personal ratings
are upside-down, with 41 percent viewing him in a favorable light and
45 percent viewing him negatively, according to NBC.
“Personally and politically, the public’s assessment is two thumbs
down,” says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey
with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll sees a similar trend in Obama’s
“There doesn’t appear to be any one overarching reason, policy or
political decision to explain the drop in Obama’s popularity,” writes
Washington Post columnist Sean Sullivan. “More likely, it’s a
combination of time and recent political crises like Syria, NSA
surveillance, glitches with the health-care law rollout, as well as
the standoff over the budget.”
“Whatever the reason, it’s growing increasingly clear that Obama — for
now at least — is no longer Mr. Popularity,” writes Sullivan.
The problem with such numbers is that they raise questions about
Obama’s competence, writes Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The
Cook Political Report, in the National Journal.
“Doubts about competence inflict damage, particularly if they are
followed by other incidents that reinforce those doubts and by a
vigilant opposition party flagging these miscues, as Republicans can
be counted on to do here,” writes Cook, referring to problems with
Obamacare and revelations of NSA spying on European leaders. “Doubts
about competence eat at enthusiasm among your base and alienate the
moderates and independents who are really the ones determining whether
a president has strong job-approval ratings.”
Can Obama recover?
Second-term presidents usually have one lame-duck year to establish
the perception of competence necessary to make that last term a
success — something Obama has acknowledged.
That’s just a couple of months from now.