President Obama has entered an uncontrolled freefall in the metrics used to measure the success and popularity of a presidency.
Real Clear Politics rolling average of all presidential approval polls (an industry standard) has the president with less than a 45 percent approval. President Obama closed last week with a 50 percent disapproval rating, an unprecedented level of discontent with Obama.
Rolling averages and daily tracking polls can vary widely. Gallup’s daily tracking varies dramatically; a poll taken in the last week of July shows Obama with 41 – 53 percent disapproval. Gallup then released a poll the following week with only a 45 – 48 percent spread.
Rasmussen Reports tends to push worse numbers for President Obama. They impose a “likely voter” screen on their respondents (as opposed to all adults) that measures their level of intensity and the likelihood that they will get to the polls in November. As a result, their most recent poll showed Obama with an 11 point negative rating.
The bottom line, however, is that numbers from every source are trending downward.
There are other valid metrics that measure the success of a presidential administration in the arena of public support; among these are the direction of the country and the average generic ballot. The RCP Right Track / Wrong Track average is currently at -61.3 percent. The average generic ballot is at a surprisingly steady R+6, the highest number in the history of that polling question. Historically, this measurement tends to be inaccurately weighted towards Democrats making the real average something between +8 and +10 for the GOP.
At the risk of further promoting the utility of Real Clear Politics, David Paul Kuhn wrote about Obama’s tipping point in RCP back on June 9th. Kuhn wrote that the sputtering economy combined with the unending oil spill in the Gulf combined to form a narrative of the Obama White House that would be hard to shake and may even define his presidency. At the time, this seemed like a premature diagnosis, and his approval numbers experienced some unsurprising ups and downs in the interim. Today, however, this seems like a prescient observation.
The President’s image problems are manifold. The Gulf oil spill may have abated, but the impact of the government’s inaction on the matter left a lasting impression and the caricature of an inept federal response has stuck. Deficit spending in Congress continues undeterred by the utter contempt the public holds for such practices. New jobs numbers and unemployment forecasts predict that the dreaded “double dip” recession is all but inevitable. The First Lady’s trip abroad was a public relations disaster. The President may not have hit his tipping point in early June but he definitely hit it sometime in July.
Electorally, the President has become a liability for Democratic candidates seeking traction in states that have a low opinion of the president (e.g. anywhere that is not the North East or the West Coast). On Monday, the president touched down in Texas. While he was greeted by a group of supporters, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Houston Mayor Bill White (D) was not among them. White is making a play for independent voters, which the president has deeply alienated. This trend explains why Bill Clinton will be campaigning for Democratic candidates in independent-heavy states, and President Obama is spending his time rallying his base at invite-only fundraisers and appearing in front of friendly audiences on programs like The View.
The White house is all but resigned to losing the House in November, if not the Senate. Occasionally, an operative will make a politically imprudent admission of the Democratic Party’s predicament. After the midterms, the President likely believes he can get back to pushing an agenda past Congress, even a split Congress, though the bully pulpit and by citing his 2008 mandate. Today that mandate is gone and the pulpit’s efficacy has been reduced by overuse. Voters in November may not be able to precisely cite which policies they would like to see reversed but the new Congress will be quite explicit.
Furthermore, a Republican Congress may not prove to be the convenient foil for Obama that conventional wisdom maintains that it was for Clinton. Clinton could communicate his agenda to independents and even Republicans effectively, if not convincingly. The consummate politician, Clinton never took the public trust for granted and did not spare any effort reaching out to even the most skeptical of constituents. Obama and his handlers have given up on convincing independents and they seem to view co-opting Republicans as a waste of time.
Last week, Democratic pollster Pat Caddell warned of “revolutionary levels” of public conviction to reverse what the President sees as essential reforms. Few doubt the president’s dedication to his agenda and only the most foolish or historically illiterate challenge the will of the American people once their collective mind is made up. So what does happen when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org