Poll on tax deal hints Obama still hasn't sold public

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 6:54 AM

President Obama has aggressively sold the tax agreement he negotiated with congressional Republicans, arguing that it not only averts tax increases but will spur economic growth.

So far, he hasn't persuaded either congressional Democrats or the American people. The public, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, broadly supports the agreement. But when asked whether it will actually help the economy, 17 percent of people said it would hurt, while 43 percent said it would make no difference.

Obama administration officials have repeatedly touted independent analyses that argue the deal will help the economy, and Larry Summers, Obama's top economic adviser, has warned of a "double-dip" recession if the agreement does not pass.

But the early polling resembles what public opinion surveys have long shown about the $787 billion stimulus, passed early last year: While most economists argue it stemmed the recession and created millions of jobs, voters remain unconvinced of its value.

In the exit poll from the November elections, a third of voters said the stimulus "hurt the economy," while another third said it "made no difference." The first group backed the GOP with 87 percent of their votes, while the second group favored Republicans, 57 percent to 39 percent.

The results could be interpreted as a need for the Obama administration to better sell its economic prescriptions, a critique frequently aired by congressional Democrats and party strategists outside of the White House.

But the numbers also could support a different conclusion: Many Americans increasingly view the economy, as with other issues, through a partisan lens. Republicans overwhelmingly say the stimulus didn't help, Democrats say it did. The independents who determine election results might like Obama more if the economy improves. Or they might decide like the president more for other reasons and therefore conclude the economy is better.

But the left still loves him

The Post-ABC poll suggests that the administration is right about one point: The "professional left" and liberals are not the same. MSNBC host Keith Olberman said last week Obama had lost the Democratic base with the tax deal.

Not so much. As Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write, "his approval rating among liberal Democrats stands at a lofty 87 percent, almost identical to where it was in an early October poll and down marginally from a survey later that month."

'The hardest vote I've ever taken'

That's what Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said in an e-mail to his supporters, explaining his vote Monday for the tax deal. The message went on to illustrate the challenge Obama will face with his own party going forward: The other 13 percent of liberal Democrats are vocal and feisty.

"A lot of people are unhappy that the President punted on first down, and I'm one of them," Franken wrote. "Extending the Bush tax breaks for the super-wealthy will explode our deficit over the next two years without doing anything to help our economy. It's bad policy."

This is not the first time that a member of Congress has slammed the president NFL-style in the last few days.

As Politico's Josh Gerstein notes, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) last week faulted Obama for "punting on third down" in the deal.

Gerstein adds, "What's next? 'Obama forfeited even before he got to the field'? 'Obama turned and ran the football into the GOP's end zone'?"

Obama's day

The president will meet with a group of CEOs of major companies at the White House, continuing a determined, if largely unsuccessful, effort throughout his presidency to rally the business community behind his policies.

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