The worst may be behind Obama. But it cost him dearly.

December 11, 2013

After weeks filled with nothing but bad news for President Obama, there have been some reasons for optimism in recent days. But even if Obama has moved past the lowest low of his presidency, there is no way around the reality that his image has been badly damaged since he triumphed at the polls last fall.

The latest bit of good news for Obama came in a pair of new polls released Tuesday. A Pew Research Center-USA Today poll shows a slight uptick in his job approval rating, from 41 percent last month to 45 percent, which was about where he stood before the troubled health-care rollout. A separate New York Times/CBS News poll shows Obama's approval rating has jumped from 37 percent last month to 42 percent.

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)
(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The surveys come on the heels of a positive jobs report last Friday and a relatively smooth nine days on the health-care front after the administration repaired technical problems that had plagued the online marketplace since October.

Other polls show the public's view of Obama hasn't rebounded, so it remains to be seen whether the president has put his roughest patch behind him in the eyes of the public. But if he is in fact turning the corner, the road to rebuilding his once firm political standing will be long and extremely difficult because of the damage he left in his wake.

Even in his best poll of the week, Pew Research shows Americans have soured on Obama in the past year.

The percentage of Americans who say Obama is "not trustworthy" has jumped from 30 percent to 45 percent since the start of 2013. It's further evidence the reality of Obama's "you can keep your plan" refrain (it turned out to initially be inaccurate) proved to be a big blow.

What's more, roughly half of Americans, 51 percent, now say Obama is "not able to get things done." That number stood at just 37 percent at the beginning of the year. Considering that Obama's agenda on guns and immigration has stalled on Capitol Hill and his signature health-care legislation has become a political liability for Democrats, the dramatic jump is not surprising.

As for the health-care law, 41 percent now say they approve, compared to 54 percent who say they disapprove. Like Obama's approval rating, opinions about the Affordable Care Act are at pre-rollout levels. And Americans' projections about the law's future impact have grown more positive.

But that's no small comfort for a president who has taken a a big tumble since winning a second term.

In addition to his trustworthiness and efficacy coming into question, Obama's personal likability -- long a cornerstone of his appeal -- is nowhere near what it once was. Nor is his support from young Americans, among whom the president dominated in two elections like no other modern presidential candidate.

As we've written in this space often, even though Obama doesn't ever have to go before voters again, his image matters immensely for his political agenda. With the midterm elections now under a year away, an unpopular Obama means fodder for Republican attack ads in congressional races, while a popular Obama stands to boost Democratic chances.

The odds of winning back the House majority were long for Democrats headed into this cycle. Obama's woes have only made them longer. And if you think gridlock and partisanship in Washington is rampant now, it could escalate if Democrats lose their Senate majority and the GOP expands its power on Capitol Hill.

Nothing is set in stone. Obama still has time to turn things around. And we may be witnessing the beginning of his comeback. But the hill he has to climb could hardly be any steeper.

Fixbits:

Congressional negotiators released an $85 billion budget agreement Tuesday.

Obama praised the deal.

The Senate confirmed Patricia A. Millett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to become the next Federal Housing Finance Agency head.

The Chamber of Commerce backs Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). Meanwhile, the Club for Growth doesn't plan to oppose him.

Massachusetts state Sen. Katherine Clark (D) won the special election for the House seat once held by now-Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will hold his second inauguration party on Ellis Island.

George H.W. Bush joined Twitter.

Must-reads:

"Obama critics focus on a selfie and a handshake" -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

"The new Paul Ryan" -- Jake Sherman, Politico

"Tea party threat again hangs over Republicans’ efforts to take Senate" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post

Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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Chris Cillizza | December 10, 2013