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Obama Ending 2013 On A Rough Note

Obama Sad Presser

When it started, 2013 seemed like it was going to be a good year for President Obama. Just two months previously, he had been re-elected by a health margin in both the popular vote and the Electoral College, the first Democrat to get more than 50% of the popular vote in consecutive elections since Franklin D. Roosevelt did it from 1932 through 1944. His part had not only held on to the United States Senate, but actually gained seats thanks largely to Republican missteps, and Democrats had even managed to pick up a few seats in the House of Representatives. In the election itself, the American public seemed to wholeheartedly endorse his fiscal and economic policies over those of Republican nominee Mitt Romney as well as his foreign policy record. On the polling side, his job approval was at nearly 54%, among the highest levels it had been since he took office in January 2009. Everything seemed to indicate that, at least for this first year of his Second Term, President Obama would have a distinct advantage over the Republicans in Congress when it came to pushing his agenda.

Reality, of course, has proven to be quite different. Even with the enhanced Democratic control of the Senate, the President was unable to advance even legislation that had the support of the majority of the public, such as Universal Background Checks for gun purposes. Many of his most controversial nominees languished in the Senate until Senate Leadership decided to take the extraordinary step of revising the cloture rules last month. Immigration reform, which passed the Senate with a bipartisan majority, albeit one smaller than originally hoped for, is essentially stalled and seems unlikely to move significantly during the upcoming election year. And, most importantly, a series of “bad news” events conspired to push the President’s agenda into the background.  Among the first of those stories was the revelations of targeting of conservative organizations applying for 501(1)(c)(4) status with the Internal Revenue Service. Shortly after that, Edward Snowden fled the country as the news media began publishing reports based on the information he provided regarding the massive data collection practices of the National Security Agency. The Republican House, meanwhile, took up significant time investigating things such as the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi and the BATF’s “Fast & Furious” gun running program that led to guns ending up in the hands of Mexican drug gangs. There were victories, of course, such as the outright victory the President had in the shutdown showdown in October, but to a large degree that political victory has been overshadowed by the disastrous roll out of the Affordable Care Act.

Now, with the year winding to a close, The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Scott Clement point to the results of a new ABC News/Washington Post Poll that shows just how rough a year it has been for a man who, twelve months ago was basking in the glow of an electoral victory that even Bill Clinton could not achieve:

President Obama is ending his fifth year in office matching the worst public approval ratings of his presidency, with record numbers of Americans saying they disapprove of his job performance and his once-hefty advantages over Republicans in Congress eroded in many areas, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

His position is all the more striking when compared with his standing a year ago, as he was preparing for his second inauguration after a solid reelection victory. That high note proved fleeting as the president faced a series of setbacks, culminating in the botched rollout of his Affordable Care Act two months ago.

Approval rates of both parties in Congress remain worse than Obama’s. Still, it is the president who has suffered the most damage from his administration’s self-inflicted wounds and a year of partisan conflict that included a partial shutdown of the government.

Obama’s standing is of particular concern to congressional Democrats as they look to next year’s midterm elections. Parties that control the White House suffer — sometimes significantly — in midterm campaigns when the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent.

White House officials think that since the health-care Web site (HealthCare.gov) is now working better than it was in October and November, they have an opportunity to regroup. The results of the poll offer some hope for the White House, but in general the findings reinforce the perceptions of a president in trouble.

On several key measures, Obama has lost significant ground to his Republican opponents in Congress. On the question of who is seen as better able to handle the country’s main problems, Obama and Republicans are tied at 41 percent. A year ago, the president’s advantage was 15 points and at this stage in 2010 it was still five points.

Obama also has lost the lead he enjoyed on who could better deal with the economy. Today Republicans are at 45 percent to Obama’s 41 percent. Last year at this time, it was Obama at 54 percent and congressional Republicans at 36 percent. A 26-point Obama advantage a year ago on who would better protect the middle class has fallen to just six points in the latest survey.

He has lost ground on these measures among women, liberals and younger Americans — key members of his winning electoral coalition.

The president’s overall approval rating stands at 43 percent, while disapproval is at 55 percent. Those numbers are virtually identical to a poll taken a month ago. At this time last year, 54 percent approved of Obama’s overall performance and 42 disapproved. Even after the huge losses his party suffered in the 2010 midterms, Obama’s approval rating was higher, at 49 percent, than it is today and was slightly more positive than negative.

Obama ends his fifth year in office with lower approval ratings than almost all other recent two-term presidents. At this point in 2005, for example, former president George W. Bush was at 47 percent positive, 52 percent negative. All other post-World War II presidents were at or above 50 percent at this point in their second terms, except Richard M. Nixon, whose fifth year ended in 1973 with an approval rating of 29 percent because of the Watergate scandal that later brought impeachment and his resignation.

The one glimmer of good news for the President is that public opinion on the Affordable Care Act seems to be leveling off:

Public opposition to the new health care law has eased in the past month, enough to help level off Barack Obama’s falling popularity – but not to turn it around.

Fifty-five percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll disapprove of the president’s job performance overall, unchanged from last month’s reading as the worst of his career. Forty-three percent approve, a scant percentage point from 42 percent in November.

Better for the president is an easing of opposition to the Affordable Care Act, with attitudes back to a close division on the law; 46 percent of Americans support it, with 49 percent opposed. Opposition is down from a record 57 percent last month amid the new system’s troubled rollout.

Some of this may be due to the fact that, since December 1st, the Federal Exchange and other aspects of the PPACA signup process seem to be operating better than they were the previous two months, and that the number of people who are able to access the site and successfully setup a plan has increased significantly in just the past two weeks. Whether this is a sign that the poll numbers on the PPACA will start to turn around, and that they will have an impact on the President’s numbers, is something that only time will tell us. As far as the PPACA specifically is concerned, there are plenty of other unanswered questions regarding implementation, and plenty of other things that could potentially go wrong over the coming months. For that reason alone, it’s far to early to say that the PPACA, or the President, are out of the woods as far as the poll numbers go just yet.

As far as the poll numbers go, this poll is just another example of the impact that the past year has had on the American public’s view of the President, something that can clearly be seen in this RealClearPolitics chart of the President’s job approval going back to the beginning of the year:

Obama RCP Approval 1216

If you go back further in the history of the President’s Job Approval polling, you’ll see that he’s ending his fifth year in office, which may well be the final year in which he is likely to have the ability to significantly influence the country’s domestic policy agenda depending on how the midterm elections turn out, in far worse shape than he ended any previous year in office. More importantly, as has been noted, the recent polling has shown significant drops in the public’s trust in the President and in their confidence in his leadership. As both Democratic and Republican pollsters have pointed out, these are numbers that seldom bounce back to where they were before very easily, especially this late in a Presidential term. Given this, it seems unlikely that the President’s numbers will improve significantly over the coming year and, unless his party manages to grab control of the House back, which seems fairly unlikely at this point, he’s going to find himself getting the “lame duck” label pretty quickly. Instead, soon after the 2014 elections, attention will turn to the 2016 nomination races in both parties and Congress will likely trudge along, hopefully being able to accomplish basic things like passing a budget and such other routine matters, but unlikely to act on issues like immigration reform, tax reform, or the much talked about, but always elusive, “grand bargain” that fiscal policy wonks insist we need to solve our problems. Instead, what we’ll see will be both parties positioning themselves on those issues for 2016 while the President, most likely, turns his attention to areas where he can act without Congressional involvement, such as foreign policy.

As always, of course, this could all change if circumstances change. As things stand right now, though, one can correctly characterize 2013 as the President’s annus horribilis, and it doesn’t look like the remainder of his Second Term is going to be all that much better.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    Today in Doug’s ODS…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

  2. @C. Clavin:

    I’m just looking at the numbers, dude. You can choose to ignore them if you wish. But to call it ODS is the response of someone who is apparently just an Obama sycophant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  3. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    If you were actually looking at the numbers…all the numbers…maybe. But you’re not…and never do.
    I’m looking at your body of work, Doug…like I said…ODS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  4. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    And how predictable…that someone clearly suffering from ODS would call a critic a sycophant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  5. Tillman says:

    @C. Clavin: You’re not critiquing anything. You’re simply calling him a hack and dismissing outright.

    Perhaps you should provide the numbers Mataconis is missing. Otherwise you’re just asserting he’s wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Among the first of those stories was the revelations of targeting of conservative organizations applying for 501(1)(c)(4) status with the Internal Revenue Service.

    Just looking at the numbers, dude…right…and repeating thoroughly debunked lies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. edmondo says:

    You have to give Obama credit. He’s done the seemingly impossible – he’s actually made the GOP look respectable again.

    On several key measures, Obama has lost significant ground to his Republican opponents in Congress. On the question of who is seen as better able to handle the country’s main problems, Obama and Republicans are tied at 41 percent. A year ago, the president’s advantage was 15 points and at this stage in 2010 it was still five points.

    Obama also has lost the lead he enjoyed on who could better deal with the economy. Today Republicans are at 45 percent to Obama’s 41 percent. Last year at this time, it was Obama at 54 percent and congressional Republicans at 36 percent. A 26-point Obama advantage a year ago on who would better protect the middle class has fallen to just six points in the latest survey.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  8. edmondo says:

    Doug,

    You’ve gone too far. The word “apparently” was totally unnecessary.

    But to call it ODS is the response of someone who is apparently just an Obama sycophant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  9. stonetools says:

    I think the way back for Obama is to lower expectations and apportion blame. If his supporters are disappointed with Obama, its because thet believe he has super powers to either bend Congress to his will through the use of the “bully pulpit” (or maybe through the use of The Voice?) or because they thought he could accomplish major stuff without Congress. Now some of that was because Obama himself initially believed that all he had to was to propose reasonable stuff to Congress and the REpublicans would magically agree. Unfortunately, he was wrong about that and he needs to explain that to his supporters. and then put the blame squarely on the Republicans for stopping jobs programs and immigration reform. I think it’s time for him to say flatly that immigration reform will be impossible unless the Democrats regain control of the House, for example. Lots of the DC pundits will scream at him for being so bluntly realistic, but let’s trying honesty for a change.
    Another thing he can do is to move as quickly as possible in filling all those open slots on the federal bench and the various administrative agencies. He should do a “Hundred Days” of federal appointments, saying he’ll “Get the government moving again.”
    Thirdly , he needs to go all in on implementing Obamacare. Its going to be the crown jewel of his legacy and he can be sure of continuing Republican attempts to sabotage, so he needs to be on top of it 24/7/365.
    Finally, given the opposition, he needs to play rope a dope and wait for the Republicans to self-destruct. Already Ryan is talking about a debt ceiling showdown. THey can’t help themselves, so when they inevitably ovverreach, get ready to counterpunch.
    Anyway, that’s my unsolicited Obama advice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. stonetools says:

    Doug can be relied to give us nothing but bad Obama news, so hey, here’s some balance:

    Sue Spanke of Missoula, Mont., was highly displeased this fall when she learned her health insurance had been canceled.

    “I got so mad that I went to my phone and started calling all the political people and giving them what for,” Spanke told The Billings Gazette. That was before she learned she was eligible for a policy at a much lower cost.

    After angrily calling her state auditor’s office, Spanke, a self-employed artist in her 50s, found she was eligible for a federal subsidy. Her new insurance will cover her for a mere $30 to $40 a month with a deductible of only $500. She had been paying $350 a month for a Blue Cross policy with a $5,000 deductible. “I went from a horrible policy that didn’t cover anything, that was breaking me, to the best policy at the best price I’ve had since I was in my 20s,” she said.

    With the website largely fixed, one of the last lines of attack against Obamacare is that the president lied when he said if people like their insurance plans, they can keep them. The White House is hoping stories like Spanke’s will inoculate them against those arguments. And the positive stories abound.

    Like I said, implement Obamacare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  11. C. Clavin says:

    @edmondo:
    So says another ODS’er.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. edmondo says:

    @stonetools:

    Here’s some more balance
    :

    Rude Awakening for Federal Way Woman Who Got Shout-Out From President – Can’t Afford Obamacare Policy After All

    After Jessica Sanford Sends Fan Letter to Obama for Making Insurance Affordable, State Says She Must Pay Full Ticket

    By Erik Smith
    Washington State Wire

    OLYMPIA, Nov. 17.—Jessica Sanford, the Federal Way woman who got a shout-out from President Obama last month with her fan letter for the Affordable Care Act, got a rather rude awakening last week. Turns out she doesn’t qualify for a tax credit after all.

    At least that’s what the letter said that she got from the state. Now she says her dream of affordable health insurance has gone poof. She can’t afford it. She’ll have to go without. “I’m really terribly embarrassed,” she says. “It has completely turned around on me. I mean, completely.”

    I wonder how many times the GOP will run this ad in 2014?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  13. rudderpedals says:

    @edmondo: Give it a few days and this story will be punctured as were the others.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  14. David M says:

    @rudderpedals:

    Already done several weeks ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. stonetools says:

    @edmondo:

    Mate, do you read your links? Here is how it ends:

    She says she wants to make it clear she has no beef with Obama and Obamacare. She still believes in the Affordable Care Act. “I don’t want this to be a political thing,” she says. “I don’t want to be bashing the president. I don’t want to be bashing the ACA. I don’t want to come across as saying that. I am a big Obama fan.

    OOPS!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. David M says:

    @stonetools:

    No edmondo doesn’t actually care to read what he’s posting or even if it’s true, as long as is makes Obama, the Democrats or Obamacare look bad. His brilliant strategy is to vote Republican because he’s mad we didn’t get single payer in 2009.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0