There’s no suger-coating the fact that Obama’s approval numbers on the economy are terrible, or that there’s widespread public pessimism that he can turn it around.
But polls that drill a bit deeper into public attitudes suggest an interesting disconnect: Despite all the disapproval and pessimism, Americans approve of the actual fiscal policies Obama is proposing.
We now have two national polls showing this dynamic. Today’s National Journal Congressional Connection poll shows that the public prefers Obama’s ideas on the economy to those of the GOP. Of the top five ideas preferred by respondents to the poll, four of them have been proposed by Obama, with large majorities thinking that cutting taxes on employers who hire new workers; providing funds to municipal governments to prevent public employee layoffs; helping homeowners refinance; and increasing spending on schools and roads all would be very or somewhat effective at creating jobs.
As Ronald Brownstein put it: “With some exceptions, those polled saw more promise in the ideas that Obama offered in his speech than proposals Republicans are touting.”
But this same poll also shows that the percent of Americans who say Obama’s policies have made their economic problems worse has doubled, and only a small minority expects his efforts to make a big overall difference.
This disconnect also turned up in last week’s NBC/WSJ poll. It found that majorities or pluralities support a range of Obama’s individual ideas — raising taxes on the wealthy; more federally funded road construction; and extensions of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. At the same time, it also found high disapproval of Obama on the economy, and high overall pessimism that Obama will succeed in fixing it.
All this suggests disapproval of Obama on the economy may be more a referendum on the actual state of the economy and the overall failure of government to fix it, and less a referendum on Obama’s current suggested policies. It also suggests that as President, Obama will continue to bear the brunt of public disapproval even if Republicans block job-creation ideas that the public thinks would help ease unemployment.
If you want to understand why Obama and his advisers are taking the American Jobs Act to the people, this is why. Despite public skepticism about the Recovery Act, they believe the individual ideas in his new jobs package have public support. Short of getting some of them passed, the only way to break the current dynamic — in which the GOP reaps political dividends from blocking policies Americans say they approve of — is to drive home to Americans who is preventing them from passing.