Why Barack Obama can’t win

December 5, 2013

President Obama has reached a new low in his presidency -- this much is clear.

But the president's lowest-ever approval ratings don't even tell quite how bad it is for Obama. For that, you need to look at how he is viewed on the issues.


(AP photo)

Recent polling from the Pew Research Center and Quinnipiac University has shown Obama's approval rating on almost all major issues plunging into the 30s -- below even his lowest-ever overall approval rating, which has stood around 40 percent in recent polls.

One might expect Obama's issue approval rating to be lagging on the economy, for example. And it is.

But even with an issue on which which the president appears to fall in line with a majority of Americans, he's struggling.

The Pew poll showed Obama's approval rating on immigration, for instance, was at 32 percent, with 60 percent disapproving, and Quinnipiac showed just 35 percent approving of Obama on that issue.


This is despite his push for a comprehensive immigration reform package that, in principle, Americans support. Two recent polls have shown about six in 10 Americans support the idea of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently living in the United States -- the linchpin of comprehensive reform.

Immigration isn't the only issue. The Quinnipiac poll also showed Obama's approval on foreign policy, the federal budget and health-care all below his overall approval rating. On none of these issues did he crack 36 percent approval. The only issue on which Obama was still above-water was fighting terrorism (52 percent approve, 42 percent disapprove).

The Pew poll showed basically the same thing, with Obama rising above 37 percent approval only on terrorism.

So why is Obama's approval on the issues lower than his overall approval rating? We've got two theories.

One is that, despite his fall from grace, the president retains some of the likability that once kept his favorable rating -- a personal feeling towards the president -- above his approval rating -- an evaluation of his job performance.

Another is that Obama's leadership ability has taken a hit. Polls have shown a significant decrease in the number of Americans who view Obama as a strong leader -- a decrease that suggests even some supporters don't have faith that Obama can execute on issues like immigration.

Regardless of what it is, the lesson is that Obama is going to be fighting something of an uphill battle on basically anything he does going forward, be it immigration reform, the looming budget negotiations, or even the temporary deal to halt Iran's nuclear program -- which, like immigration, polling suggests he should be strong on.

The saving grace for Obama is that the Republican Party is hardly in a strong position these days. But despite this, the Quinnipiac poll showed Republicans in Congress -- even as they have hit a new low in many polls -- had a slight edge on Obama on all four issues tested: immigration, health care, the economy and the federal budget.

All of it suggests a difficult road ahead for Obama when it comes to the looming legislative fights in Congress.

Fixbits: 

Virginia's attorney general election recount will be held in mid-December.

About 29,000 Americans signed up for insurance on HealthCare.gov between Dec. 1 and 2, more than the total between Oct. 1 and Nov. 2.

After meeting, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reached no budget deal.

Vice President Biden argued with China's president.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) invoked the Bible in a new ad.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's is spending significant money on an ad to help Pryor's opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton (R).

State Sen. Torrey Westrom (R) will challenge Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Westrom was the first legally blind individual elected to the legislature.

FBI officials searched former Iowa GOP state Sen. Kent Sorenson’s home two weeks ago, according to his lawyer. Sorenson, a former backer of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) allegedly sought payments from Ron Paul's 2012 White House campaign in exchange for his endorsement.

Sunny Obama was in the spotlight Wednesday.

Must-reads: 

"Drug-Cost Surprises Lurk Inside New Health Plans" -- Melinda Black, Wall Street Journal

 "In Obama’s Book List, Glimpses of His Journey" -- Peter Baker, New York Times

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