WSJ/NBC pre-SOTU poll puts Obama approval at 43%

Will Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech end up being a big non-sequitur? According to early leaks from the White House about the speech, Obama intends to focus on income inequality, infrastructural spending, and climate change.  According to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Obama may as well be talking Greek in relation to the priorities of the electorate:

President Barack Obama will lay out his agenda for the year on Tuesday night before a nation increasingly worried about his abilities, dissatisfied with the economy and fearful for the country’s future, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. …

At the same time, the public supports many of the themes and policy ideas Mr. Obama looks set to emphasize in his annual State of the Union address to Congress. Large majorities of respondents said they want the White House and lawmakers to focus on job creation and early-childhood education, and a slimmer majority favored increasing the minimum wage. …

White House aides say the president also plans to use the nationally televised address to make a case for increased efforts—through executive action, if necessary—to expand hiring, infrastructure development, job training and educational opportunities, while taking moves to combat climate change.

Nearly three-quarters of poll respondents said the president should also make a top priority of reducing the federal budget deficit, an objective that Mr. Obama hasn’t emphasized recently. Deficit reduction ranked second as a priority, after job creation, among a list of issues presented to respondents.

In other words, Obama will be talking about greater government intervention and spending just at the time when more than 70% of Americans want him to start working on job creation and deficit reduction. Expect some bones tossed in those directions, but the emphasis will clearly be on income inequality and his frustration with Congress, a frustration that is largely self-inflicted. Rather than address the priorities shared by most Americans, Obama will once again use the national stage to complain about his own political predicament, one largely of his own making.

Small wonder Obama goes into this SOTU with the second-worst sixth-year numbers in history. His job approval level is 43/51. The poll also shows that Obama’s personal numbers haven’t recovered much at all, with his 42/44 almost identical to December’s 42/46 and October’s 41/45. Last summer, those numbers were 48/40. It’s worse on expectations for his performance in 2014, though, with 40% either optimistic or hopeful and 59% uncertain or pessimistic.

Perhaps in part that’s due to his choice of issues these days. In the poll, 91% of respondents want job creation prioritized, and 74% want deficit reduction. Only 45% want “reducing income inequality between the rich and the poor,” which comes in fourth from the bottom in the list of issues and priorities — above climate change, another theme in tonight’s speech, which comes in dead last at 27%.

In my column for The Week, I point out that even on these issues, Obama’s record indicates that we’ll be hearing the same old thing … with the same old results:

Once again, a “new” focus just brings up old questions. The economy has been in technical recovery since June 2009, and Obama’s economic policies have been in place since the Democrat-controlled Congress authorized an $800 billion stimulus plan in February 2009. The trajectory of the American economy has produced more inequality since then, and not less.

For instance, the civilian workforce participation rate measures the employment status of the U.S. compared to dynamic population. When Obama took office in the middle of the Great Recession meltdown, that measure stood at 65.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In June 2009, at the technical end of the recession, it was still 65.7 percent. By February 2010, the point at which the White House insisted on using as a baseline for stimulus success, it had fallen to 64.9 percent, the lowest since Ronald Reagan’s fifth State of the Union speech in January 1986. Right now, that measure stands two full percentage points below that at 62.8 percent, the lowest level since Jimmy Carter’s second year in office.

And let’s not forget that the Obama administration’s biggest legislative victory — the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare — was supposed to address inequality in the health sector’s one-sixth of the economy. Instead, it has so far tossed more people out of insurance than it has provided coverage, has caused premiums to rocket upward as insurers absorb costlier enrollees, and has featured incompetence and unaccountability throughout HHS and the White House. Obama will want to separate ObamaCare from income inequality, but it’s the same effort, and highlights the lack of competence for this administration or any other to carry out this kind of reform, either legislatively or through unilateral executive action. …

How does a second-term president sell the same old reform again for the sixth year in a row, while his policy failures on reform drag down his credibility?

Expect the media to extoll the speech, but in terms of the rest of the country, Obama will be talking Greek. And after pushing the Lie of the Year 2013 since 2008, don’t expect anyone to take even that Greek too seriously.