But despite the hoopla, recent polling shows that the public is much more in sync with the GOP’s agenda than the White House’s. This month’s NBC/WSJ survey illustrated a striking disconnect between the president’s improving approval rating (at 46 percent, up 2 points since November) and the top priorities of the American electorate. In the survey, 85 percent of voters rank “creating jobs” as a top priority, followed by defeating and dismantling ISIS (74 percent), reducing the federal deficit (71 percent), securing the border with Mexico (58 percent), and addressing Iran’s nuclear program (56 percent). The last four are core GOP strengths; polls consistently show Republicans with an edge on those issues.
The items at the bottom of the priority list are all top administration priorities: closing the Guantanamo prison camp (24 percent rate as top priority), addressing the issue of climate change (34 percent), creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants (39 percent), and increasing the minimum wage (44 percent). It wasn’t just Obama’s assessment of the international stage that was disconnected from reality. It was also his assessment that the American people are with him on his agenda.
That disconnect will be driving the upcoming presidential election, which will provide a decisive verdict on the sustainability of Obama’s accomplishments. Obama, as he ad-libbed in the State of the Union, couldn’t help but brag that he won two elections as proof of his mandate. The GOP also won a historic number of seats in Congress, capitalizing on public anger over his policies. Rather than move to the middle and compromise with Republicans, Obama appears intent on playing to his party’s progressive base in the run-up to the 2016 elections – and pass along that legacy to Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign. It’s a gamble that will determine whether his landmark legislation will remain law, or be rolled back by a new Republican president.