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Obama the Super-Tanker   September 1st, 2009
It was only a matter of time       


More observations...

I've been hesitant to mention the polls since they can be very volatile. However, I think it must be noted that President Obama has been in the process of tanking at an unusually rapid rate.

Today Obama has a 45% approval rating and a 53% disapproval rating. Just as importantly, his strong approval rating is 30% and his strong disapproval rating is 41%. The number of people that strongly oppose Obama is almost equal to all the people that even somewhat support him. And nearly as many people strongly disapprove of Obama today as strongly disapproved of outgoing President Bush in January (41% for Obama and 43% for Bush)--he's created as much strong opposition in less than eight months as Bush was able to create in eight years and with an unpopular war.

Aside from the very notable slide in the polls, a few other conclusions can be drawn.

First, 30% strongly approve. With some upward variation in the late spring (when the stock market was recovering), his hard-core strong approval numbers have been pretty close to this number since April. He hasn't gained any hard-core supporters. In fact, he's been busy losing them.

Meanwhile, 41% strongly disapprove. That number has basically been going up constantly since the stimulus bill--but really started its upward spike in late June. He's creating hard-core opponents.

Something else to note is that his "strongly approve" number has fallen but, so far, has bottomed out at around 30%. It's likely that this is his core base--those that were emotionally invested in his campaign. If we consider his base to be 30%, the fact that he started at a sustained 60% approval rating and is now at 45% means that he has lost half the people that used to support him but weren't part of his base.

He's losing valuable independents--and those independents that still support him don't do so with strong feelings.

Also, note that 30% strongly approve of Obama and 45% approve of him--that means only 66% of Obama's support is "strong." However, of the 53% that oppose Obama, 77% strongly disapprove of him. This isn't just a matter of a bad media day... this is about people passionately and strongly opposed to the president. Not only are more people opposed to Obama than support him, his opposition is more strongly opposed than his supporters are supportive.

It should also be noted that, thusfar, although Obama has demonstrated a capacity to lose strong support, for the most part once someone is in the "strongly disapprove" column, they stay. If you look at the "strongly disapprove" numbers, once the number reaches a certain point, it doesn't subsequently drop by more than 5%. Each time he ticks up in terms of strongly disapprove numbers, he's creating a new floor of opposition. In short, he's accumulating a large opposition that doesn't seem to be easily persuaded to stop strongly opposing him.

The president had a minor positive bump in the polls last week when he was on vacation and generally not in the headlines; town halls around the country have also been winding down. But now Obama is back and the topic of health care is picking up again, and his polling has reached new lows.

All in all, what these numbers mean is quite fascinating. Obama is doing best when he's out of sight and doing worst when he's out there actively promoting his vision for health care reform. People are either tired of Obama or, at the very least, seem to be tired of Obama in the context of health care.

His public appearances in support of his health care reform are creating opposition rather than support.

This represents, in my opinion, a strategic paradox for the proponents of Democratic health care reform: Congress has shown itself completely incapable of resolving the impasse, and town halls over the last month may have mortally wounded Congress's will to act. That leaves the president--and some are suggesting that Obama should scrap everything Congress has done and just propose his own bill. But considering Obama's approval numbers have gone down as he has interjected himself into the health care debate, and considering they go down faster the more he talks about it, it would seem Obama doesn't really have any political capital to get it done. He might have at one point, but at this point it would seem that the only thing that America would like less than a mish-mash of legislation from Congress is a liberal, partisan proposal pushed on them by an unpopular president.

At this point it would seem to me the president and Democratic health care reform needs a game changer.

It seems the current health care proposal won't make it through Congress; and if, by some amazing political miscalculation they manage to push it through, I think that will only further drive people against Obama and the Democrats. At this point getting this health care reform package passed would not be a political victory, it would be a massive political liability that would most likely solidify opposition to the president and Democrats going into the midterms.

As mentioned above, I think the president has missed his opportunity to use high approval ratings to propose his own legislation. He might have gotten away with it if he had done it in February instead of his $787 billion spending bill. But at this point I don't think Obama can propose his own package and get it passed based on ever-shrinking support.

I believe there are three possibilities: 1) The health care package is thrown out and a true market-based health insurance reform is crafted in a bipartisan manner so that Republicans can get on board. 2) Some event external to health care occurs that allows Obama to recover in the polls and accumulate some more political capital to spend on health care--I'm not sure this would work, though, because I bet his poll numbers would once again drop like a rock as soon as he started talking health care. 3) Health care reform dies.

Now if Democrats choose the fourth option--pushing through the current package despite strong opposition--it'll just be time to grab the popcorn and watch the fallout in 2010.

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