Thursday, July 30, 2009

President Obama's public standing will keep falling unless he turns back to the center averages of Obama job approval
Click on image to enlarge

It's the big story everywhere for the past week. Obama's public approval ratings have fallen to earth and look to be on a very unfavorable downward course. The graphic above plots the average of polls as dropping from an unsustainable high point around 65% approval shortly after the election to a not-so-great 52% today. RealClearPolitics also has a summary graphic here, which shows the same decline and has him at 53-39 as of now.

Some Obama supporters are pooh-poohing the numbers on the grounds that other recent Presidents have seen a similar drop over the first six months of their first terms, and 52% favorables isn't all that bad.

True -- but most of those Presidents were not trying to push sweeping, expensive new domestic programs on a half dozen fronts at once, while also shifting the tone of America's foreign policies.

Something more than the natural end to the post-election honeymoon is over. Most of the polls tell us that even those who continue to approve of Obama have a lot of trouble approving his policy initiatives. In particular:

-- Most Americans like their current health plans, don't especially want a radical makeover of the health care system, and worry (not without reason) that "reform" will either cost them more or affect the quality of their care or both.

-- Most Americans are worried about spending trillions of dollars on bailouts for dozens of banks and GM, among others, on the "stimulus" bill, on the cap and trade bill, and now on health care reform, even as the rest of the federal budget expands.

-- Most Americans remain worried about the recession and aren't particularly pleased with the Obama Administration's handling of it so far.

Like all Presidents, Obama was elected because he captured the center of American politics -- the independents, moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats who are always open to voting for either party. As a result of a grave financial crisis and a deepening recession, combined with widespread fatigue with all things Bush and a badly run campaign by John McCain, the Democrats had an historic opportunity. Still, to seize that opportunity, Obama campaigned as a moderate -- a man who saw all sides, looked for responsible compromises, and sought a new era of "post-partisan" cooperation in Washington after a couple of decades of growingly bitter quarrels.

But as President, Obama has turned away from candidate Obama's centrist moderation on key domestic issues. (Fortunately for the nation, in foreign affairs and national security, what changes Obama has made so far are mainly cosmetic or shifts in rhetorical emphasis.) Above all, in November, millions of people voted Democratic in the belief that a change was needed to get the economy moving again. Many of those voters continue to believe that this should be Obama's number one priority on which he stays focused until the job is done. They may not be economists, but they know that spending a trillion dollars more on health care, even if desirable, has nothing to do with ending the recession, the key job they voted to give Obama. And they know that the stimulus program has fizzled, while unemployment has continued to rise.

Perhaps Obama will get through this period and see his popularity rebound -- maybe in time to save the Democrats from a whopping setback at the mid-term elections in 2010. But I doubt that will happen unless the moderate, consensus-building Obama we came to know and like in the campaign makes a reappearance.

What do you think of Obama's decline in the polls? Post a comment.

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