Ed flagged the new WSJ/NBC poll earlier but I want to make sure you’ve seen the most arresting numbers as a prelude to tonight’s re-re-re-re-reboot of his presidency. The public’s belief in Hopenchange has waxed and waned over the past two and a half years, but never in that period has it waned quite this much.
We’re all eeyores now.
If you don’t like that vague yet intriguing metric, here’s another vague yet intriguing one to try. When you offer people a list of positive (“right direction,” “hopeful”) and negative (“downhill,” “wrong track”) words and ask them to choose one that describes which way the country’s headed, the gap between negative and positive is now larger than it’s been for at least three years:
The top three choices are all negative to boot:
There’s a lot going on in those trendlines, from growing economic despair to frustration with congressional gridlock (especially the shutdown) to teeth-gnashing over ObamaCare upheaval in American health care. The fact that “divided” is the top word choice suggests that gridlock is important; on the other hand, both this poll and a new one from ABC/WaPo show public support for the tea party climbing back to 2012 levels after falling temporarily during last October’s shutdown. I take it that’s a byproduct of the Healthcare.gov catastrophe late last year: The worse ObamaCare performs, the more the public may be willing to embrace conservative opposition to the program. The point is, there’s no magic-bullet explanation. If you think there is and that this is all about congressional paralysis, have a look at the numbers noted by John Judis today in TNR today tracking Obama’s decline over time on gut-feeling questions like “Do you think the president understands the problems of people like you?” This ain’t all Harry Reid’s and John Boehner’s fault.
Whatever the exact cause, I can’t get over that second table showing how much negativity has grown since 2011. We went from a spread of -12 in January of that year to nearly three times as much now. And the dips and bounces you’d expect along the way aren’t there. If gridlock was driving the pessimism, I would have predicted a surge in negative words in January 2012, after a full year of divided government and four months after the first debt-ceiling standoff triggered a downgrade from S&P and nearly caused a technical default. Nope. The 2012 spread is nearly identical to a year before. Likewise, I would have expected a modest decline, if any, in January 2013 since Americans typically respond hopefully about the next four years after a presidential election. Nope. That’s when the bottom drops out in terms of negativity. A roaring economic recovery can cure all political ills, but short of that happening in the next three years, I think we’re staring at O’s political legacy here. Division and deterioration.