Monday, July 13, 2009

As Obama Marks Six Months in Office, His Job Approval Is Still Strong, But Slipping

President's Rating Falls to 58 Percent, According to Latest Gallup Poll; Decline Is Almost Exclusively Among Independents Increasingly Worried About the Economy, While Democrats Remain Fiercely Loyal and Republicans -- Down to 28 Percent of the Electorate and More Right-Wing Than Ever -- Are Equally Fierce in Their Opposition to Him

President Obama

Is the honeymoon ending? As President Obama nears the six-month mark of his tenure next week, there are signs that the public may be beginning to lose patience with his economic recovery policies as unemployment continues to soar and millions of Americans who are still working are forced to take unprecedented pay cuts as the recession continues to deepen. With the economy unlikely to fully recover until the summer of next year, concerns about the cost of the Obama administration's economic recovery plan is rising -- particularly among independent voters, a new round of opinion polls show. (Photo courtesy

COMING THURSDAY -- Remembering the Summer of '69, Part II: The Apollo 11 Moon Landing.

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, July 13, 2009)


As Barack Obama completes the first six months of his presidency next week, confidence among the public in his ability to bring the American economy out of its worst downturn in a generation is beginning to show signs of slippage, according to the latest round of opinion surveys.

The president's job-approval ratings averaged 58 percent for the first week of July, according to the latest Gallup Poll, a decline of three precentage points from a month ago.

The latest Gallup results are consistent with other polls taken since late June showing a similar slippage in the president's job approval ratings, ranging from a low of 52 percent in the Rassmussen Poll to as high as 61 percent in the CNN-Opinion Research Corporation survey. Taken together, the new polls show Obama with an average job-approval rating of 57 percent, according to, while nearly 38 percent disapprove.


Not surprisingly, Republicans are the most disapproving of Obama's performance as president, with an overwhelming 77 percent of Republicans voicing negative views of him. But with the GOP's ranks having fallen to the lowest percentage of the electorate in over a generation -- and the party moving farther and farther to the right -- the president's negative ratings among his GOP critics have been largely dismissed by Democrats and independents alike as little more than hyperpartisan sniping.

Indeed, Republicans on Capitol Hill -- who, almost unanimously, refused to support the president's economic stimulus package in the first place -- already have branded the $787 billion measure a failure less than five months after its passage.

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter and Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe were the only Republicans to vote in favor of of the stimulus package. Specter has since defected to the Democrats, accusing his former party of having moved too far to the right.

More problematic for the president is his declining support among independent voters. Nearly all of the decline in Obama's overall job-approval ratings is among a growing number of independents increasingly worried about the cost of the president's economic recovery policies.

While Obama's approval rating among independents remains a healthy 53 percent in the Gallup Poll, it's down a full nine percentage points since he took office in January -- six points just since late June.

Obama literally owes his election last November to the support of independents, who voted for him by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin. Independents tend to be ideologically moderate -- a fact not lost on the Democratic president, who, while reversing many of the conservative policies of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, has nonetheless hewn to a centrist path.

Obama thus can ill-afford to lose this vital voting bloc, which, at 37 percent of the electorate, according to a separate Gallup poll, now outnumbers both Democrats (34 percent) and Republicans (28 percent) and holds the balance of power in elections.


Support for the president among his fellow Democrats remains rock solid. In fact, it actually solidified in the six months since Obama took office, according to Gallup, from 88 percent to 90 percent -- despite increasingly loud grumbling from the party's liberal wing, upset with his administration's centrist approach on government surveillance, its handling of the remaining detainees on Guantanmo Bay and especially its go-slow approach on the hot-button issue of gay civil rights, particularly same-gender marriage and gays serving in the military.

But as unemployment hit 9.5 percent in June, the highest jobless rate since the 1980-82 recession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- and some economists fearing the jobless rate will soar into double digits before it starts to fall -- the optimism that Americans expressed in the spring of a recovery is starting to give way to a new round of pessimism.

At its worst, the 1980-82 recession saw the jobless rate peak at 10.2 percent, the highest since the Great Depression. The current downturn is likely to see the jobless rate exceed that peak -- with some economists fearing that it could soar to as high as 11 percent, in spite of the stimulus, before finally starting to fall, perhaps not until the summer of next year.

By that time, the economy would be an even more red-hot issue in the midterm congressional elections than in last year's presidential campaign. And that already has some Democrats nervous, fearing a repeat of the 1994 debacle that cost their party control of Congress and put Bill Clinton on the defensive for the rest of his presidency.


Obama on Saturday rejected calls from fellow Democrats for a second massive economic-stimulus package, reminding them -- and the public -- that the existing $787 billion stimulus program passed by Congress in February is not yet fully in place and must be given time to work.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president acknowledged growing public concerns about increasing unemployment, but he appealed to Americans for patience, reminding his audience that only a small portion of the stimulus was in place and that it would take several months for for it to be fully implemented.

Both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have argued that the bulk of the money from the stimulus program is still being disbursed and that it already has saved many jobs.

Fueling the new concern is an unprecedented wave of forced pay cuts, pay freezes and unpaid furloughs imposed on an increasing number of Americans who are still working.

Even unionized workers have been forced to renegotiate their collective bargaining agreements with their employers to stave off massive layoffs. Nowhere is that latter trend being seen more dramatically than in the automotive and newspaper industries, where unions have reluctantly agreed to painful wage and benefit cuts to save their members' jobs.

Part of the problem is that the recession is hitting at the same time that the American economy is undergoing a permanent restructuring, with millions of manufacturing jobs disappearing forever, leaving millions of displaced workers not only jobless but lacking the skills necessary for the jobs of the future.

At the same time, the nation's mostly private health-care system is rapidly breaking down, as more and more employers are facing skyrocketing employee health-care costs that threaten to put them out of business. Particularly for displaced workers over 55 years of age, the prospects of landing new jobs have been all but foreclosed by health-care cost concerns.


Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, noted that from a historical perspective, Obama's current ratings are not exceptional. "It is roughly the same as the rating of George W. Bush in early July of his first year, although well above that of Bill Clinton in July 1993," he said.

Of all the presidents elected since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, "Clinton had by far the worst job-approval ratings [45 percent] at the halfway mark of their first year in office," Newport said. "Other presidents from 1952 on enjoyed higher ratings in July of their initial years in office than has been the case for the last three presidents, the one exception being Richard Nixon, whose 58 percent reading in mid-July 1969 is identical to where Obama is now."

Thus, Obama's current approval rating "is essentially on par with where Bush and Nixon were, but at least slightly worse than all other presidents, with the exception of Clinton," Newport continued. "In particular, Presidents Eisenhower [69 percent], Kennedy and George H.W. Bush [66 percent] all had significantly higher ratings in the summer of their first year than does Obama at this point."

Kennedy's record-high 72 percent rating at the six-month mark of his presidency is particularly remarkable considering that he won the 1960 election by the closest popular-vote margin in modern American history: Less than 115,000 votes over Nixon. And although Kennedy captured 303 Electoral College votes to Nixon's 219, Nixon carried more states than Kennedy, 26-22.


Interestingly, Obama's 58 percent rating in the Gallup Poll is only two points lower than that of Ronald Reagan at this point in 1981, amid the severe 1980-82 recession that he inherited from Jimmy Carter.

Newport notes that both the Republican Reagan and the Democrat Clinton saw their job approval ratings take a tumble as the recessions they had to deal with deepened during the first year of their presidencies and their parties lost seats in the subsequent midterm congressional elections in 1982 and 1994 respectively -- the Democrats disastrously so, losing control of Congress.

And neither Reagan nor Clinton were able to bounce back until well into their third year in office, when the economy boomed. Both were able, however, to ride the recovery into re-election victories in 1984 and 1996, respectively.

Obama knows that getting the economy back on track will either make or break his presidency -- indeed, he staked his run for the White House on it. But even he underestimated just how bad the situation really is -- a fact he admitted in his radio address on Saturday.

And in an op-ed column published Sunday in The Washington Post, Obama made it clear that the stimulus plan was designed first and foremost to stop the bleeding.

"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was not expected to restore the economy to full health on its own but to provide the boost necessary to stop the free fall," the president wrote. "So far, it has done that. It was, from the start, a two-year program, and it will steadily save and create jobs as it ramps up over this summer and fall.

"We must let it work the way it's supposed to, with the understanding that in any recession, unemployment tends to recover more slowly than other measures of economic activity," he continued.

Republicans have proclaimed Obama's economic policies a failure -- ignoring the fact it was the laissez-faire economic policies of the previous Republican administration that led to the downturn in the first place. And so far, Republicans have come up with no viable alternatives -- sticking instead to their more than 30-year-old mantra of more tax cuts for the well-to-do and further deregulation of the private sector.

To quote the late Clara Peller, the octogenarian star of the classic Burger King TV commercials of the 1980s, "Where's the beef?"

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Volume IV, Number 55
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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