Gallup’s presidential tracking poll has been a hot topic for the last couple of hours on Twitter and e-mail, which may overstate its importance just a little. Most other pollsters already have Barack Obama’s job approval into plurality positions at best; Rasmussen has him under water at 47%/52%. The others that have Obama in majority territory have big sampling problems that overstates Democratic support. But undoubtedly, having Gallup confirm the trend emphasizes the point that Hope and Change isn’t selling any more:
The latest Gallup Daily tracking results show 49% of Americans approving of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, putting him below the majority approval level for the first time in his presidency.
Although the current decline below 50% has symbolic significance, most of the recent decline in support for Obama occurred in July and August. He began July at 60% approval. The ongoing, contentious debate over national healthcare reform has likely served as a drag on his public support, as have continuing economic problems. Americans are also concerned about the Obama administration’s reliance on government spending to solve the nation’s problems and the growing federal budget deficit. Since September, Obama’s approval rating had been holding in the low 50s and, although it has reached 50% numerous times, it had never dropped below 50% until now.
Of the post-World War II presidents, Obama now is the fourth fastest to drop below the majority approval level, doing so in his 10th month on the job. Gerald Ford dropped below 50% approval during his third month in office, and Bill Clinton did so in his fourth month. Ronald Reagan, like Obama, also dropped below 50% in his 10th month in office, though Reagan’s drop occurred a few days sooner in that month (Nov. 13-16, 1981) than did Obama’s (Nov. 17-19, 2009).
The rest of Gallup’s analysis has to do with the historical significance of the polling numbers and where Obama compares to other Presidents. Here, too, the record seems a little less significant than on first blush. Reagan also had a serious economic problem and high unemployment on his hands, and a lot more reason to blame his predecessor and his party, since they had controlled both Congress and the White House. Clinton didn’t have a majority of the 1992 vote to start with, either.
However, even with that said, the rapid drop and Obama’s inability to answer it should have Democrats worried. They needed a popular Obama to help hold the line against Republican incursions in the midterm elections. The more Obama drops in the polls, the more 2010 shapes up as a referendum on him — and one the Democrats will lose, especially in moderate-to-conservative districts they won in 2006 and 2008. Even safety votes against ObamaCare won’t help them in those circumstances if Congress pushes through massive, unpopular bills this year and next.
That’s why Democrats should be listening to Nate Silver (via Geoff A):
Indeed, the most troubling problem for the Democrats may be that government interventions into the economy — meaning the bailout and the stimulus — are increasingly perceived as having failed, which in turn increases skepticism about government intervention overall, in health care and other areas. I’m just not sure where this is headed: perhaps when the jobs picture recovers, so too will perception of these other programs, which will rob Republicans of much of their ammunition (although since employment is unlikely to recover significantly before 2010, they’ll have plenty of fun in the shooting gallery in the meantime). But perhaps instead, the damage will be medium or even long-term: if the economy takes too long to recover, it may be perceived as being in spite of, not because of, programs like the stimulus. If that’s the case, the 2010s could be a lost decade for liberalism.
To channel my Inner Krugman: it’s a political imperative for the Democrats of the highest order to get some sort of jobs bill to Obama’s desk — the sooner and the bigger the better. Suppose you could create jobs at a price of about $40,000 per, which is higher than the figure suggested by empirical research on highly targeted jobs programs. A $200 billion bill would then create 5 million new jobs, which would reduce unemployment by about 3.3 percent (e.g. from 10.2 percent to 6.9 percent). …
Might it even be worth tabling health care to get the jobs bill passed? Probably not when health care is so close to the finish line, and when the House can start working on a jobs program while the Senate deliberates health care. But if it looks like health care doesn’t have the votes, this would be the exit strategy for the Dems — for Obama to intervene and say: “we need a jobs bill first.” Either way, a couple million more jobs would make everything much smoother for the Democrats; the economy remains the primary way that the public evaluates their success.
Have the Democrats reached a point of no return on ObamaCare? Will rejecting it in favor of a pro-growth agenda restore voter confidence in Democrats? One thing is certain — what they’re doing is most decidedly not working.