On Monday, when a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed President Obama's approval ratings sinking to dangerously low levels, some number-crunchers wrote it off as "statistical noise." Then, on Tuesday, a New York Times/CBS News poll delivered even worse news, showing Obama's approval rating falling 9 points in a month, to a record-low 41 percent. These dire poll numbers come just as the economy and job market seem to be steadily rebounding, and as Obama's Republican presidential rivals are locked in an often-ugly primary battle. Why is the president's popularity plummeting? Here, five theories:
1. Gas prices are taking their toll
In both new surveys, pollsters laid much of the blame for Obama's sinking numbers on the rising price of gas. In the Times poll, 54 percent of respondents said a president can do a lot about the cost of gas, and in the Post survey, 65 percent disapproved of Obama's handing of gas prices. That could explain Obama's declining support among independents, says Noam Scheiber at The New Republic. Many independents are working-class whites, and "rising gas prices hit working-class voters hardest." Apparently their pain has "translated quite quickly into softer support for the president."
2. Americans don't feel any better off
Gas prices are only the tip of the iceberg, says John Hinderaker at Power Line. "The wealthy have fared reasonably well during the Obama years," but the economic recovery, such as it is, hasn't really benefited poor and middle-class families. "They are starting to get fed up." With much of the country still feeling "economic pain and insecurity," Obama hurts himself by touting the improving jobs picture, says Jonathan Chait at New York. "The public is ready to credit him for trying [to fix the economy]... but they do not think that it's morning in America and respond badly to any suggestion that they ought to feel cheerful."
3. Afghanistan and Iran are hurting him
Obama's approval rating on foreign policy has tanked 10 points, to 40 percent. "So what has happened in the realm of foreign policy during the past few weeks?" says Joseph Cannon at Cannon Fire. The war in Afghanistan "keeps finding ways to get worse" — witness the recent Koran burnings and alleged murder of Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier — and Obama has "said some very dangerous and belligerent things about Iran," hinting that war with Tehran is a possibility. Well, Americans are sick of war, and they surely don't approve of a president who might start another one.
4. Blame the contraceptives debate
The conventional wisdom is that the ongoing flap over contraceptive mandates is "killing Republicans among female voters," says John McCormack at The Weekly Standard. But according to the Post/ABC poll, Obama's approval dropped 3 points among women over a month when birth control mandates were "the biggest story." In the Times poll, women also favored allowing employers to "opt out" of the mandate "for moral or religious reasons," says Mickey Kaus at The Daily Caller. I guess "Obama wasn't such a genius to pick a fight over mandated contraception coverage."
5. These polls are just outliers
There's "something weird" about these polls, says Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider. Newer polls from Reuters and Gallup show Obama's approval rating on the rise, to 50 percent and 49 percent, respectively. "Maybe those two bad polls were just... noise?" If you'll allow me to channel "my inner Andy Rooney," says Libby Spencer at The Impolitic, "there's too many damn polls." And what do they tell us? "The electorate is fickle as hell." We'd be just as well off using a Magic 8 ball.
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