President Obama’s sequester stumble

March 13, 2013

In January and February, President Obama was carrying the fight to Republicans on budget issues -- winning major concessions on revenue in a fiscal cliff deal and watching as the GOP postponed a showdown over the debt ceiling.

As the March 1 deadline for sequestration approached, Obama seemed to be sprinting toward a clear political win. Then he stumbled.


A man, not President Obama, stumbling. AP photo

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll makes clear that Obama has tumbled from the political heights he enjoyed in the first two months of the year.

His approval rating now sits at 50 percent with 46 percent disapproving, a far cry from the 55 percent approve/41 percent disapprove score he enjoyed in a mid-January Post-ABC poll.

Just 44 percent approve of Obama's handling of the economy in the new Post-ABC survey, down from 50 percent who said the same in January. And, perhaps most tellingly, Obama enjoys just a 44 percent to 40 percent advantage over congressional Republicans when people are asked who would do a better job handling the economy -- down from an 18-point bulge on that same question in a December 2012 Post-ABC survey.

Divining the reasons why Obama's numbers are down can't be done by simply scouring the poll data. But, political history suggests that presidential honeymoons are growing shorter and shorter, and these numbers may simply be a reflection that the divided nation of the past four years is reasserting itself now. And, Obama's week-long warning tour before the sequester may have damaged him politically, too, as the vast majority of people felt no impact from the sequester. (Almost three in four say the sequester had no effect on their lives in the new Post-ABC poll.)

While Obama has stumbled, congressional Republicans have held steady -- although they remain deeply unpopular. In the new Post-ABC survey, 24 percent approve of how congressional GOPers are handling their business. That's unchanged from the January survey.

As the small but cohesive percentage of Americans who approve of congressional Republicans did not waver in their support after another tough battle, a key part of the president's cheering section did. Obama's 10-point drop in approval among political independents is a reminder that a significant share of his support comes from the political middle, and that’s exactly who has turned away from him since January.

With wider support going into the heart of the sequestration battle, the president had more to lose than the Republicans. Playing in the mud gets messy, especially if you looked better off beforehand.

That said, it's worth bearing in mind that congressional Republicans still come in for more of the blame for sequestration being triggered; 47 percent say the GOP deserves more of the blame, while 33 percent name Obama.

The GOP trend line has been steady. Obama's trajectory, on the other hand, has been downward. And that's a political reality Republicans have to be thrilled about heading into the bigger budget battles looming on the horizon in the next few months.

Fixbits: 

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are drafting starkly different budget plans with little room for compromise.

Obama defended his own budget plans and attacked Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's. The president's budget will likely be two months late.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) won't run for governor as an independent.

The DCCC raised $6.3 million in February, ending the month with $7.6 million cash on hand and $10.9 million in debt.

George P. Bush is running for land commissioner in Texas.

The man who recorded Mitt Romney's "47 percent" video will reveal his identity.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) intends to force a vote to defund Obamacare.

He's also going up with a very early six-figure ad buy back home in his reelection campaign.

Democratic strategists Julie Roginsky and Michael Tobman have teamed up to form Riverview Public Affairs.

Must-reads:

"10 Things to Know About the Ryan Budget" -- Steven T. Dennis, Roll Call

"Michael Sullivan’s website borrows from past" -- Eric Moskowitz, Boston Globe

"Obama's risky Hill strategy" -- Manu Raju and Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico

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Sean Sullivan · March 12, 2013