President Obama’s credibility problem

November 19, 2013

A majority of voters in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll do not believe President Obama is "honest and trustworthy," a precipitous shift from past findings that reveals the depth of the damage he has incurred due to his misleading "if you like it, you can keep it" pledge about health insurance.

Fifty-two percent of registered voters in the new Post-ABC poll say that Obama is not honest and trustworthy; a year ago, in mid-October, as Obama was moving toward a sweeping reelection victory, a strong majority (56 percent) said that he was both honest and trustworthy. And, earlier in Obama's first term, the numbers were even higher, with 74 percent of people calling him honest and trustworthy in April 2009.


What happened seems obvious. Obama's second term has been defined by two major (and markedly negative) stories: The massive surveillance program run through the NSA and the problem-plagued rollout of Obamacare. In both instances, Obama came across as something less than forthright about what he knew and when he knew it.

The NSA program alone might have been survivable from a credibility perspective for Obama, since opinion -- in official Washington and in the country -- was deeply divided about whether the spying was a good thing or a bad thing. And, the NSA spying story isn't one that hits average Americans where they live. (Unless, of course, Carrie Mathison is the average American.)

But, the vague sense of unease that the NSA spying scandal created among the public has been turned into a genuine sense of distrust by the bungled rollout of HealthCare.gov and Obama's statement that people who liked their insurance plans wouldn't have to change them under the Affordable Care Act. Those growing concerns about whether the president is telling the truth have been further cemented by Obama's reluctant apology to NBC's Chuck Todd and his awkwardly worded sort-of apology during a Thursday news conference. (Obama's exact words: "The way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.")

It's hard to overestimate how potentially problematic the public's loss of trust in Obama is for both his party and his chances of claiming a major accomplishment or two before lame-duck status hits in late 2014 (if not before). Throughout his presidency, Obama has benefited from the fact that more people liked and trusted him than agreed with his policies. As a result, he always got the benefit of the doubt when his presidency hit a rough patch. That phenomenon has ended.

The chart below shows honesty is not a superficial factor for Obama. Believing Obama is honest and trustworthy is a better predictor of whether people approve of his job performance than several other attributes, according to a statistical analysis of the Post-ABC poll results that compared each factor’s importance. Honesty outpaces empathy (“understanding people’s problems”), being a strong leader, and being a good manager.


Image courtesy of WaPo-ABC

Being seen as honest/trustworthy then is absolutely core to Obama's brand -- and to how people perceive the job he is doing. It's that important.

Fixbits: 

The Cheney vs. Cheney feud continued late Monday with Mary Cheney accusing her sister Liz Cheney of regarding her and her wife as "second-class citizens."

Senate Republicans blocked another one of Obama's court picks.

Michigan GOP Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land declined to say whether she would back Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell  (R-Ky.) as GOP leader in 2015. The comments came a day before she plans to attend a fundraiser hosted by McConnell.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters (R) will run for Florida's 13th District seat, setting up a contested primary.

Mitt Romney endorsed Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who faces a primary challenger.

The Madison Project endorsed Republican Rob Maness in the Louisiana Senate race.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) took a dig at Romney.

Must-reads: 

"Private consultants warned of risks before HealthCare.gov’s Oct. 1 launch" -- Juliet Eilperin and Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post

"Obama’s ratings tumble after health-care flaws" -- Dan Balz and Peyton M. Craighill, Washington Post

"Cheney family clash over gay marriage reflects broader divide within GOP" -- Matea Gold and Sean Sullivan, Washington Post

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Aaron Blake | November 19, 2013