Two months after taking office, President Obama is very much a popular guy. The RealClearPolitics average of recent polls shows him holding a 60.2 approval rating. That's only a bit below the the 63% average approval he scored in late January. However, then, only 20% disapproved, and that number has now climbed to 31.7%.
The trend is obvious. The honeymoon is over already, and Republican voters are increasingly disapproving. All those efforts by GOP leaders to rally their own base in the face of Democratic mockery have paid off, with the base coming home. In the above graph of Gallup polls, you can see the substantial fall-off of GOP support from 41% to 26%.
More significant is a small but noticeable trend of independents into the negative camp. Gallup shows independent support has edged down from a high of 63% to its current 59% -- not a big drop but one that could have a major impact on Obama's political clout, if the trend continues.
Are centrist and independent voters having second thoughts about the President for whom they provided the margin of victory just four months ago? For the most part, no, but there are some signs of unease with Obama's strategy of "going big" on the stimulus bill, the budget, health care, energy, education aid and other issues.
Rasmussen polls show that the number of voters who expect government spending to increase under Obama has jumped sharply from 54% after the election to 72% now. Only 18% of voters believe their taxes will go down under Obama, while 31% think they will go up. These "tax and spend" concerns are mother's milk to the GOP, which may already be drawing support from the center, as the bill for Obama's programs keeps rising.
A sure sign of that is the fact that Republicans have drawn even with Democrats in generic Congressional preferences for the first time in years, according to a National Public Radio poll conducted jointly by Democratic and Republican polling firms: 42% of the respondents said they would vote for a Democrat for Congress, and 42% said they would vote for a Republican. This tie is attributable to independents favoring Republicans for the first time since 2004:
Democrats still outnumbered Republicans in terms of party identification in this poll by 6 points, 45 percent to 39 percent. Democrats also favored their own party's congressional candidates 83 percent to 7 percent. But voters who call themselves independents gave GOP candidates the edge by 14 points, 38 percent to 24 percent. And self-identified Republicans supported their own party's candidates 85 percent to 3 percent.In a separate Rasmussen generic congressional preference survey taken at about the same time last week, Republicans actually scored a small edge, 41% over the Democrats' 39%.
The National Journal's Charlie Cook reads the numbers this way:
Independent voters do not like partisanship, whether it is practiced by Democrats or Republicans. If Republicans really have pulled even or slightly ahead among independent voters, that is a very ominous sign for Democrats, an indication that Obama's talking the talk of bipartisanship isn't sufficient and that he and the Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill have to walk the walk.I agree with Cook, but another closely related factor is the impact on centrist voters -- moderate-minded Republicans and Democrats as well as independents -- of the huge and seemingly endless costs of Obama's proposals. Voters are still worried more about ending the recession and reviving the economy, and they will give Obama a great deal of time and latitude as long as he is seen as working hard to get that done. But worries about the long-term costs, higher taxes and possible inflation are growing, too. A new report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that pegs the coming decade's deficits at $2.3 trillion more than Obama has projected will accentuate these concerns.
Republicans will certainly challenge Obama aggressively on these issues, and moderate Democrats, conspicuously these 15 Senators, are likely to press Obama to look for reasonable middle ground. He should listen to them. There has been a lot of malarkey since Election day about a sweeping political realignment, a generational shift to the Democrats and the left trumping the need to govern from the center, and the twilight of the Republican Party. But here we are a mere two months into the new administration and there are signs that the always crucial center could swing back to the GOP in 2010, just as it did in 1992.
What's your thinking about the mood of the electorate? Post a comment.