Friday, July 29, 2011

Obama Remains in Political Danger Zone

In spite of his apparent winning the public relations battle with Republicans over the debt ceiling crisis, President Barack Obama is still stuck in the mid-forty percent range of job approval – the danger zone for re-election.

Obama has now completed 60 percent of his term – the 10th quarter – and his approval averaged 47 percent during the last three months.

Of course, incumbents tend to be re-elected, and there are still two- to three-quarters for the economy to recover (7 out of 10 presidents were re-election since FDR, or the beginning of the modern era of polling).

But, in general, Obama’s below 50 percent approval average is not a good sign, especially since in the short-term he’s tending to hold his own or win many confrontations with Republican opponents.

For example, Obama has used his pulpit and speaking ability, backed with tested messages, to win the positioning in the debt ceiling debate.  He wants the balanced approach.  He’ll compromise.  Washington is too partisan; it doesn’t work.  He wants to protect the most vulnerable and most popular programs.  He supports shared sacrifice, not tax breaks for the rich.  Republicans are extreme; they won’t compromise.

But yet, except for a few weeks after Osama Bin Laden was killed, Obama can’t move his approval numbers up.  In fact, in the latest daily Gallup poll, he’s dropped to 43 percent, equal to his all time low.  Why?

·         Although he’s trying to run as a moderate and against Washington, his liberal image as the leader of the D.C. Democratic Party is more established than in 2008.  Also, being the incumbent in office 40 weeks makes claiming to be an outsider a hard sell.

·         The economy continues to lag and people are becoming more pessimistic about the immediate future – bad news for presidential re-election chances.  A recent Gallup poll records 73 percent of Americans believe the economy is getting worse, a level of pessimism not seen since the depth of the recession in March of 2009, the beginning of the Obama/Pelosi recovery effort.

·         Obama needs to be able to look fiscally responsible, but the Democratic House and Senate caucuses’ insistence on revenue increases and Republican House’s membership refusal to accept them have blocked a compromise.  As president, he gets most of the blame for gridlock and it makes him look weak. 

·         Democrats, and especially liberal and minority Democrats, remain supportive of the president.  But, independent voters have been growing much more skeptical and volatile with his approval rating.  One problem exasperated by the debt ceiling debate is that Obama must reassure liberals and demand revenue increases while resisting spending cuts.  But, that makes compromise preferred by independents harder to achieve.

Although Obama has a slight advantage nearing the last year of his term, the Republican nomination looks increasingly valuable as the nominee will face a very vulnerable incumbent.

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