Feature

Obama: Why his poll numbers are sagging

A Pew poll found the president’s disapproval rating at a new high of 51 percent, and his approval rating at a new low of 42 percent.

The “Great Communicator” has a problem, said David Kuhn in RealClearPolitics.com. Nineteen months into a presidency that even opponents assumed would be remembered for political deftness and personal charisma, the American public has fallen rapidly out of love with Barack Obama. In his flip-flopping on the Ground Zero mosque, his sluggish response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf, and his “fruitless chase of GOP moderates” in the long, ugly health-care battle, the president has demonstrated shockingly “poor political instincts.” A Pew poll released last week found the president’s disapproval rating at a new high of 51 percent, and his approval rating at a new low of 42 percent. Most strangely, said Sheryl Stolberg in The New York Times, fully 18 percent of American voters now believe the president is a Muslim, despite Obama’s two decades as a congregant at United Church of Christ in Chicago, and his repeated professions of his Christian faith during the presidential campaign. Part of the confusion, certainly, stems from the “aggressive misinformation campaign” waged against Obama by critics on the far Right. But even Democrats now admit that Obama’s done “a poor job of communicating who he is and what he believes.”

Communication isn’t the issue, said Steve Huntley in the Chicago Sun-Times. People just don’t like Obama’s policies. No amount of charm or rhetoric was ever going to convince the public that a program of “unrestrained spending and trillion-dollar-plus deficits” was what this nation needed to dig its way out of recession. His sliding poll numbers reflect the simple fact that Americans are “in no mood for Obama’s liberal agenda,” said syndicated columnist Michael Barone. Obama assumed that extravagant liberal projects such as the $862 billion “stimulus” bill and health-care reform would win him support from the working class, women, and independents. “At least so far, it hasn’t worked.”

Obama’s biggest mistake, said Arianna Huffington in HuffingtonPost.com, was turning his back on his liberal base. On issue after issue—from his failure to close Guantánamo Bay to his escalation of the war in Afghanistan to his watered-down banking reform—we progressives have watched in dismay as Obama has either folded outright or struck an unholy compromise with Republicans. Face it, progressives: “He just isn’t that into you.” The president missed a great opportunity, said John Judis in The New Republic. He took the reins of a nation that was “primed for a populist backlash” against Wall Street, Washington, and the plutocratic Republicans who have done such damage to the middle class. But in the White House, Obama displayed “a strange aversion to confrontational politics,” letting “Wall Street off the hook,” cutting his stimulus package by $600 million, and allowing Republicans and the Tea Partiers to corner the market in populist resentment. His dismal poll numbers are the result.

Are they? said Ezra Klein in WashingtonPost.com. Recent history shows that the economy is the most important factor in any president’s popularity, and that “enormously powerful structural forces” drag down the poll numbers of every president at this stage of his first term. Obama’s approval rating is actually slightly higher than Bill Clinton’s, Jimmy Carter’s, or Ronald Reagan’s at the equivalent point in their presidencies. Given that no previous president in 75 years inherited a recession quite this bad, Obama’s numbers are actually pretty good. Why shouldn’t they be? said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. In only 19 months, Obama has steered the economy away from a depression; saved GM and Chrysler; extended health-care benefits to nearly all Americans; forced BP to cough up $20 billion to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; and withdrawn all combat troops from Iraq. Not bad. “He still hasn’t walked on water, though. What’s wrong with the man?”

What’s wrong, said Rich Lowry in National Review Online, is that after all this time, “we don’t know him.” Obama was always “emotionally remote,” but he campaigned, and won, as a “blank canvas upon which people could paint their visions of grandeur.” A year and a half later, he remains “an unknown quantity,” a cipher who stands for nothing in particular. With the economy still in the doldrums, and the country mired in pessimism and bitter division, disillusioned citizens are now projecting their fears and their anxieties upon that blank canvas. Barack Obama is “assuredly not a Muslim,” but he just as assuredly is “a question mark.”

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