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47%: Honeymoon's over, but is divorce likely?

"President Obama's job approval rating has fallen to 47% in the latest Gallup poll, the lowest ever recorded for any president at this point in his term." Bush, by way of comparison, was at 86% by the same time of his first term (though as a newly-minted war-time president overseeing a relatively healthy economy). Rasmussen corroborates with a job approval of 47%-52% (strongly approve: 27%; strongly disapprove: 38%).

Getting into particulars, Obama's approval is 14% among Republicans, 42% among independents and 83% among Democrats. (May we now lay to rest the absurd notion that Obama was going to bring "change" to partisan politics? Unless the meaning of "change" was division without precedent.) Gallop credits the low numbers to a lack of perceived progress on any of his major initiatives and mounting opposition to healthcare reform. The right and left will likely remain rather fixed in their opinions, but losing the independents will sound the death knoll of President Obama - and the Democrats.

Polls should always be taken with a grain of salt, but presidential job approval ratings are a rather solid snapshot of the national mood. Broad, all-encompassing polls such as this are driven in part by basic emotional trends - the most important likely being confidence (that's why the dissolution of foreign governments follow a vote of "non-confidence"). Two-thirds of voters believe unemployment will not have improved by this time next year. Such fears will always fuel negative approval ratings, and Obama's numbers will likely continue to decline until national faith in economic security is restored.

The most interesting reflection of the broader national picture is Rasmussen's finding that, in "a three-way Generic Ballot test, Democrats attract 36% of the vote, the Tea Party candidate picks up 23%, and Republicans finish third at 18%."  Tea Party Candidate? Did this second-ranked third-party even exist last month? The GOP's poor showing isn't as bad as it seems, of course, as very few Tea Partiers are probably left-leaning liberals sympathetic to the Democrats. Nonetheless, the ideological rift in the GOP so desired by Democrats (and many conservative Republicans) seems capable of manifesting itself in ways far more practical than many might have imagined. Could a weak incumbent on the left and an enervated opposition party limping toward the middle lead to a (momentary) third-party revolution on the right?

Categories > Presidency

Discussions - 7 Comments

Justin, some thoughts,

1. Obama's job approval is being dragged down by the high unemployment rate, but even a slow and feeble recovery could convert a strong headwind into a slight tailwind. The combination of reduced expectation and a friendly media might make the lousy seem not so bad. Here is what I mean: In the last twenty years, any President who went to the country with 7% unemployment would be in desperate trouble. But in 2012, 7% might not look so bad, especially of unemployment is trending downwards (however slowly) and the media that most nonpolitical folks consume spin it Obama's way.

2. The good news is that Obama's not-so-good job approval means that Obama can't provide cover for Democrats from constituencies that don't lean left.During the stimulus debate, the President could point to his job approval ratings and say "don't worry about public worries about the bill, stick with me, and the people will stick with you." That is not so true anymore. If I were a Democrat from a constituency that did not lean strongly left, I would be very nervous about much of Obama's agenda. Some liberals will try to argue that vulnerable Democrats should vote for ObamaCare, cap and trade ect because if they don't pass, the liberal base will be demoralized and Democrats will be doomed. But that is pretty transparent spin and I'm not sure how many vulnerable Democrats will buy into it.

3. I don't think that Republicans have to worry about Tea Party inspired third party candidates if Republicans show a minimum of competence and principle (in other words no more Dede Scozzafavas). The vast maority of Republicans are already against ObamaCare, the stimulus, card check, ect. The key for Republicans is to take advantage of the energy of the Tea Parties without being defined by the Tea Parties' style and constituency. This means they should share the Tea Parties' "anti" agenda (antitax, anti-Obama stimulus, anti-ObamaCare) while offering an alternative set of policies, working really hard to win over constituencies that didn't go to the Tea Parties and don't patronize right-leaning media, and avoid overheated rhetoric.

Actually, Obama's numbers are indistinguishable, statistically, from Reagan's at this point in his presidency (and Reagan, of course, benefited at least in a polling sense, from a sympathy bump after getting shot). In fact, Reagan continued his downward journey till his approvals were in the mid 30s.
But went on, of course, to win a near-landslide reelection.

In other words - chill. The polls today mean precious little.

Yeah, I don't know how much we can read into the polls right now. I think they're all up in the air until major combat operations pick up in Afghanistan and the Democrats' health care initiative is either killed or passed. If President Obama can come out looking good on both issues he'll be fine (until the effects of the health care begin affecting Americans), but if he comes out looking weak on one or both issues - then we can start talking about bad poll numbers. Too much is in flux to take these things to heart.

The tea party phenomenon is a repeat of the Ross Perot candidacy which led to election of Clinton. It represents a rejection of the Republican Party by grassroots, non-ideological conservatives. This is a constituency that cries out for the kind of leadership that Republicans should be offering and are not. It is an open question whether Sarah Palin will be able to heal the rift. To succeed she will have to speak clearly to and for this constituency in a way that does not alienate the middle third of the electorate. Can she find this voice?

Yea, heard that spin about "Reagan v.2." The big difference is that Reagan let the economy heal, and then he pushed legislation to encourage investment. Obama is doing the opposite -- it's more like FDR v.2. After a weak bump in employment for the holidays, I'm expected continued unemployment in the 9's.

I think the real question here should be would conservative republicans rather have Obama or Ron Paul type candidate in 2012? I saw the poll showing the rebublicans lagging behind the fictional tea party party. The commentator said with a snicker that the republicans were in good shape as the tea partiers had no other place to go. So here is a strange thought. Instead of forcing these individuals to vote republican(many won't and Obama will win another term if this plays out the way it is looking now), why don't rebublicans vote with this fictional third party? I understand that it would kill the Grand Old Party, but mabye its time (think old yeller). I don't think the democrats could survive without the republicans so this course of action might spurn a true realignment.

I like this post. However, you may want to correct the bit about the "death knoll" sounding for President Obama and the Democrats.

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