You know, I haven’t seen this much hand-wringing and concern about Barack Obama’s standing with the American electorate since September 2008. That’s when an electrifying and break-out performance by vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) at the Republican convention gave the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) a much-needed bounce in the polls. That’s also when Democrats were in full hair-on-fire freakout because they thought then-candidate Barack Obama didn’t appear to have the stomach to fight against scurrilous charges of sexism from the McCain-Palin campaign.
And look how well that campaign turned out.
That’s not to say that President Obama doesn’t have anything to worry about today. Far from it. Poll after poll shows a president with low job- approval ratings, horrendous right-track-wrong-track numbers and an ailing economy that refuses to get better. Yet, if you sift through the data you’ll find enough nuggets of hopeful news (assuming you want Obama to stay in the White House) that Obama could still pull off an electoral victory in 2012. But it’s going to require him to — wait for it — fight!
Obama’s approval ratings are bad. Pew Research Center has him at 43 percent. Gallup’s weekly average is 40 percent. These are come-downs from the recent highs of 48 percent and 47 percent in the New York Times/CBS News and Washington Post/ABC News polls, respectively.
More ominous, Obama’s support among white voters has taken a nosedive. While he didn’t win a majority of white votes in 2008 (43 percent), he did win “a larger proportion of white votes than any previous nonincumbent Democratic presidential candidate since Carter.” Today, according to the latest Gallup poll, Obama’s support among whites is at 32 percent, down 10 points since June. An Associated Press-GfK poll released this month held similar bad news.
Fifty-six percent of all whites approved of how he was doing his job in the first three months of his presidency. But that support has fallen, with only 36 percent now liking how he's doing his job, while 59 say Obama deserves to be voted out of office.
The president simply can’t get reelected without at least matching the support he got in 2008. And he won’t get reelected if he doesn’t inspire his disillusioned base of African Americans, labor, young and first-time voters to return to the polls. But some of the recent polls have glimmers of hope that Obama can win many of these folks, daresay the nation, back.
Still blame Bush. Republicans and more than a few pundits complain that Obama won’t stop whining about the economic mess he inherited from President George W. Bush. The problem for them is he not only speaking the truth, he’s also giving voice to what Americans think. The AP-GfK poll from last week notes that 51 percent of Americans still blame Bush rather than Obama (31 percent).
No love for Congress. The AP-GfK poll puts public support at 12 percent. That’s the lowest in that survey’s history. Meanwhile, the NYT/CBS News poll this month recorded the highest disapproval rate for Congress in its history, 82 percent. The NYT also reported that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had a job approval-disapproval rating of 30 percent to 57 percent. Obama’s disapproval rating is 10 points lower.
Obama held in high personal regard. The Pew poll holds the results that are key to Obama’s resurgence. In short, the American people might not like how he’s doing his job, but they certainly like him and his character.
Majorities say he stands up for what he believes in (71%), cares about people like them (63%), and most view him as a good communicator (75%), well-informed (63%) and trustworthy (59%). Public assessments of these traits are relatively unchanged in recent months.
Heck, even Republicans, who not surprisingly don’t trust him or think the president cares about people like them, appear to like some things about him.
Nonetheless, Republicans have positive views of some of Obama’s traits. Majorities see Obama as a good communicator (60%), as someone who stands up for what he believes in (58%) and as warm and friendly (52%).
This is key to Obama’s resurgence because people who have been disappointed and were disillusioned by him still trust him enough to give a hearing, give him a chance. But he’s going to have to fight for that chance.
The American people like a fighter. That so many already view him as someone who stands up for what he believes in should give Obama all the comfort in the world to take on a Congress and a House speaker that aren’t as popular as he is. It’s better to fail in the fight to get something big done for the American people than not engage in the battle at all.
As the saying goes, “Go big or go home.” As weary as they are, many of Obama’s most ardent supporters aren’t ready for him to go home just yet. And most certainly not without a fight.