Public Has Little Confidence In Obama’s Foreign Policy Or Leadership, New Poll Shows
President Obama’s job approval rating has hit a low point in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal part, thanks in large part to a precipitous drop in public confidence in the President when it comes to foreign policy:
The percentage of Americans approving of President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign policy issues has dropped to the lowest level of his presidency as he faces multiple overseas challenges, including in Iraq, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Additionally, the public is evenly split on whether Obama is a competent manager of the federal bureaucracy. And a majority of respondents – 54 percent – believe the term-limited president is no longer able to lead the country.
“This is a bad poll for President Obama, and not a good poll for anybody else,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democrats Peter Hart and Fred Yang.
“Whether it’s [Vladimir] Putin, Ukraine, the VA hospitals, Bowe Bergdahl, the events have controlled Obama, rather than Obama having controlled the events,” Hart adds. “He may be winning the issues debate, but he’s losing the political debate, because they don’t see him as a leader.”
The poll was crafted before the instability in Iraq grabbed headlines, so it doesn’t contain questions on that subject. It also was conducted before the United States arrested a suspect in the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
But it shows an American public that has grown dissatisfied with President Obama on foreign policy and national security decisions.
Just 37 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, which is an all-time low in the survey, while 57 percent disapprove, an all-time high.
What’s more, by a 44 percent-to-30 percent margin, Americans disagree with the Obama administration’s decision to secure the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five imprisoned Taliban fighters.
And respondents are evenly divided if the details of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his base in Afghanistan matter in the U.S. decision to secure his release: 47 percent say the details matter, while 46 percent say they don’t.
President Obama’s overall approval rating in the poll is at 41 percent, down three points from April. That’s tied for his all-time low in the survey.
And his favorable-unfavorable rating is upside down (41 percent-45 percent) after being right-side up two months ago (44 percent-41 percent).
<Perhaps most troubling for the president, 54 percent think he is unable to lead the country and get the job done, compared with 42 percent who believe he can.
The general phenomenon of President Obama’s declining poll numbers isn’t new, of course. We’ve seen it in other polls this month, and going as far back as April, with polls showing him hitting lows in job approval that make one wonder how much longer it will be before he hit the levels that his predecessor saw before he left office in 2009. What’s perhaps most remarkable about this poll, and something that should concern the White House if it persists, is the overall decline in the public’s approval of the President’s foreign policy in general and the doubts about his ability to lead in particular. As a general rule, the public tends to give a President more leeway and support on foreign policy issues than on domestic issues, at least that’s been the case historically. To a large degree this has been because there has usually been more domestic agreement on foreign policy issues, and because the public tends to give Presidents the benefit of the doubt when they act in response to an international crisis. Those rules no longer tend to hold, though, when things start to go bad on the international front or when the public begins to doubt the Presidents judgment or ability to lead. This is what happened to such recent former Presidents as George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
To a large degree, this is exactly what has happened to Barack Obama. For most of his Presidency, foreign policy was the one area where the public tended to approve of his job performance at the same time that they were giving him lower grades on the economy, health care, and general job performance. For example, take a look at this chart from Pollster: (Click to enlarge)
For the vast majority of the Obama Presidency, the President was above water on foreign policy job approval. In no small part, no doubt, this was due to the fact that he had largely followed through on his promise to end the Iraq War and the fact that the Afghan War, while unpopular has largely become an “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon for the American public. The one major dip that occurred seems to have coincided with the Arab Spring of 2011 and the military action in Libya, which the public was largely against according to the polls taken at the time. However, since that was a short and, for the United States at least, bloodless affair, and was followed just a few months later by the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, it didn’t have much of an impact on the general trend. It wasn’t until roughly a year ago that things began to turn sour for the President on foreign policy. It’s difficult to pick any single incident that might be responsible for this, but this does coincide with the Administration’s aborted campaign to lobby for military strikes against Syria, which the public was strongly against, as well as the general post-election decline in Obama’s job approval that I’ve written about before. Whatever the reason, it seems as though we’ve entered an era where the public is negative on the President’s job performance even in any area where they’ve traditionally given Presidents deference.
Outside of foreign policy, though, that leadership number I highlighted above is the one that should most concern the White House, and Obama’s fellow Democrats. If it holds up, it basically means that the public has lost confidence in the Presidents ability to lead the country on any issue, even the ones they might agree with him on and that makes it harder for the President to make the case for his political agenda going forward. When this happened to George W. Bush, it played a huge role in his ability to navigate the 2008 financial crisis. When it happened to Jimmy Carter, it had an impact on everything from his domestic policy, which even a Congress controlled by his own party started to reject, to foreign policy issues like the Iranian Hostage Crisis and relations with a Soviet Union that was becoming more assertive than it had been in quite some time.
This morning on Morning Joe, NBC’s Washington Bureau Chief Chuck Todd bluntly stated that this is the public telling the President that his Presidency is over:
I’m not sure I’d go quite as far as Todd does in interpreting the results here. At the very least, I’d want to see how this plays out in other polls in the coming months and, most importantly what impact this has on the midterm elections and the fortunes of Obama’s fellow Democrats. As a general rule, however, we’ve known all along that eventually Barack Obama was going to become a lame duck at some point in his Presidency. What this polls seems to show us is that it’s happening sooner than anticipated, and that it could have a serious impact on the President’s ability to get things done not only domestically but also around the world.