Politics today resembles the second term of President George W. Bush. The country stopped listening to him; the voters had decided they had had it. Both he and his party suffered in polls in the last midterm election of his presidency.
In some sense, President Obama’s fate is even worse. Yes, his polling is down and his party faces losing the majority in one house of Congress. But, unlike Bush, who seized control and salvaged the Iraq war, Obama is on a foreign policy skid that shows no sign of halting. Syria’s civil war is a bloodbath and is widely recognized as a blight on the president’s record. Few have any confidence in his negotiating strategy with Iran (lift sanctions and hope Iran comes around). He putters as Vladimir Putin stakes his claim on eastern Europe. (His latest action to enact personal but not sector-wide sanctions on Russia is embarrassing or, as one former State Department official put it, “mindless.”) As The Post’s editorial board put it, “By choosing not to use the economic weapons at his disposal and broadcasting that restraint to the world, Mr. Obama is telling Mr. Putin as well as other potential aggressors that they continue to have little to fear from the United States.”
One can’t help but sense that the international blunders are affecting the president’s overall standing. The Post/ABC’s latest poll suggests things are indeed getting worse:
Obama’s approval rating fell to 41 percent, down from 46 percent through the first three months of the year and the lowest of his presidency in Post-ABC News polls. Just 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 37 percent approve of how he is handling the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and 34 percent approve of his handling of the situation involving Ukraine and Russia [46 percent disapprove] . . . . Among registered voters, 45 percent intend to vote for the Democratic candidate in House elections this fall, and 44 percent for the Republican candidate. Based on past elections, that close margin is troubling news for Democrats. Shortly before they lost control of the House in 2010, Democrats held a five-point advantage on this question.
Another measure of voting intentions came when people were asked whether they thought it was more important to have Democrats in charge in Congress to help support Obama’s policies or Republicans in charge to act as a check on the president’s policies. On this, 53 percent of voters say Republicans and 39 percent say Democrats. That is almost identical to the results of the same question when it was asked in September 2010, two months before the GOP landslide.
Despite the purported 8 million signups, Obamacare is no more popular than it was before the administration’s victory lap. (“The Post-ABC poll found that 44 percent [down from 49 percent last month] say they support the law while 48 percent say they oppose it, which is about where it was at the end of last year and in January. Half of all Americans also say they think implementation is worse than expected. . . . That finding was more positive for the administration than most other polls at the time. Democrats saw it as a possible leading indicator of a shift in public opinion, but that has not materialized.”) When you get to specifics, the public is even gloomier. (“A 58 percent majority say the new law is causing higher costs overall, and 47 percent say it will make the health-care system worse. While a majority say the quality of the health care they receive will remain the same, a plurality expect it to result in higher personal costs for that care.”)
Why hasn’t the ballyhooed 8 million figure helped Obama? For one thing, voters have tuned him out or don’t believe what he says. After “you can keep your insurance,” Obama’s credibility took a nosedive, and it is difficult to get presidential trustworthiness back once it is lost. There is also very good reason to doubt the figure since the administration won’t say how many people actually have paid up and how many were previously insured. Moreover, the other effects of the law — higher prices, losing doctors, etc. — affect the vast number of people who didn’t get insurance for the first time. The losers far outweigh the winners.
When you look at the poll’s details, it becomes evident that the most polarizing president in memory has firmly lost independents and Democrats. His own party is disappointed in his meager results. On overall approval, 74 percent of Democrats approve, but only 12 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of independents do. The president has been playing to his base (e.g. playing the inequality and “war on women” cards), but he is falling farther behind with non-Democrats without inspiring his own side. Likewise on Ukraine, 58 percent of Democrats approve of the president’s performance, but only 13 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of independents do.
The president’s standing also has deteriorated among Hispanics. Only 52 percent approve of his performance overall and less than 50 percent approve of his handling of the economy and of health-care implementation. No wonder the Democrats are so anxious to restart immigration reform.
And finally, 95 percent of the registered Republicans surveyed say they will absolutely or probably vote in November, while only 84 percent of Democrats say they will.
Now, before the GOP starts popping the champagne corks, some words of caution are in order. First, the Senate is decided state by state, not by national polling. That puts a premium on nominating the most electable Republicans and running disciplined races. Second, voters still lack confidence in Republicans on the major issues (e.g. the economy, health care). That suggests that Republicans would do well to spell out reasonable and concrete proposals so voters will understand how they intend to address health care, the economy, immigration and other issues important to middle-class voters. It’s a long way until November, so the GOP would be well advised not to rest on its laurels.