A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll reveals that President Obama’s overall approval rating has cratered to 41 percent, tying the low-water mark of his presidency. Moreover, only half of those polled consider the president to be competent, a lower percentage than that accrued by George W. Bush following the pounding he and his administration took for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One year later, Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. Whether the 2014 election will produce similar results remains to be seen.
Chuck Todd, Chief White House Correspondent for NBC News, minced no words assessing the results. “This poll is a disaster for the president,” Todd said. “You look at the presidency here: Lowest job rating, tied for the lowest; lowest on foreign policy. His administration is seen as less competent than the Bush administration, post-Katrina.” Todd then addressed the leadership issue. “And then the issue of do you believe he can still lead? A majority believe no. Essentially the public is saying your presidency is over,” he added.
Todd is referring to the 54 percent of respondents who said Obama is no longer able “to lead the country and get the job done” compared to only 42 percent who thought he could. That pessimism is buttressed by the 41 percent who believe his performance has gotten worse over the past year, compared to only 15 percent who thought it had improved.
The economy is another sore spot for the president, with 54 percent of the respondents disapproving his handling of it, compared to only 41 percent who think he’s doing a good job. This suggests Americans are very much aware that the current 6.3 percent unemployment rate cannot obscure the reality that more than 92 million Americans have given up looking for work, dropping the labor force participation rate to its lowest level in 36 years. That economic discontent was reinforced in an April poll conducted by the WSJ revealing that 55 percent of registered voters believe “the economic and political systems in the country are stacked against people like me,” versus only 39 percent who disagreed with that statement.
By a massive 57-37 percent margin, Americans disapprove of Obama’s foreign policy and national security decisions. Despite such a dismal spread, Obama may have actually caught a break with regard to polling on this subject. Because the nationwide telephone poll of 1,000 adults was conducted between June 11-15, it occurred largely before the consequences of his decision to prematurely withdraw from Iraq in 2011 was thrust front and center by the media.
NBC News contends the capture of primary Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattallah might be an offsetting factor. But one suspects that when the public becomes fully aware that Khattallah had remained out in the open and conducted several news interviews over the past year and half, the majority of Americans polled last November who said the president is neither honest nor trustworthy may see this as another effort to distract from the numerous scandals surrounding his administration. The public did get a chance to weigh in on the prisoner swap of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five imprisoned Taliban fighters. A plurality of Americans disapproved, by a margin of 44 percent to 30 percent. Furthermore, Americans disagree with the real impetus behind Bergdahl’s release: despite Obama’s determination to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, 59 percent of Americans want it kept open.
Democrat Peter Hart, one of the three pollsters who ran the survey, along with fellow Democrat Fred Yang and Republican Bill McInturff, contends the president’s ratings are tanking because “whether it’s Putin, Ukraine, the VA hospitals, Bowe Bergdahl, the events have controlled Obama, rather than Obama having controlled the events,” and while the public supports him on some issues, “he’s losing the political debate because they don’t see him as a leader,” Hart added.
There are bright spots for Obama in the data as well. Sixty one percent of the respondents said they believe climate change is either “a serious problem” requiring “immediate action” or a big enough concern that “some action should be taken,” and 57 percent would favor curbing greenhouse gases, even if it meant an increase in their electricity bills. On the education front, 59 percent of Americans support the implementation of Common Core standards in their respective states, a number likely driven by the 61 percent who believe America’s public schools need “major changes” or a “complete overhaul.” Obama gets a pass on the VA scandal as well with six-in-ten blaming it on long-term bureaucratic issues, compared to only 14 percent who blame the Obama administration. And while only 27 percent of respondents believe the war in Afghanistan was worthwhile, one is left to wonder whether that percentage would have been if this poll had been taken after Americans were fully aware of the bloody chaos a complete and scheduled withdrawal of American forces actually leads to.
With regard to immigration, 47 percent of the respondents believes it helps the nation, compared to 42 precent who believe it hurts the nation. But the question made no distinction between legal and illegal immigration. That is unsurprising since both NBC and the Wall Street Journal favor comprehensive reform. Thus while both entities characterize it as an advantage for Obama, reality may be quite different.
So who gets the edge in the 2014 elections? Most pollsters concede that the House is not in play, since Democrats would have to overcome a 17-seat deficit. Thus the focus has been on the Senate, where Republicans need a pickup of six seats to gain control of that chamber.
What happens there remains highly uncertain. While Obama remains unpopular, the GOP remains more so: 45 percent of the respondents held an unfavorable view of Republicans compared to only 29 percent who favor them. Democrats favorable/unfavorable ratings were less ominous, at 38 percent positive, and 40 percent negative. Those numbers correlate to 45 percent who prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 43 percent who want Republicans in control. Furthermore, while 34 percent say their vote will signal opposition to the president compared to 24 percent who say it will signal support, 41 percent say it won’t signal anything about the president. There is also historical data that point to the reality that while the party of two-term presidents gets hit hard in one mid-term election, they almost never get hit hard twice.
On the other hand, other historical data show a president’s plunging job approval ratings correlate to gains made by the opposition party. And a Pew Research/USA Today poll taken in April indicates largely negative public perceptions of ObamaCare, the economy and the president “have to move in a clearly positive direction for the Democratic Party to avoid a drubbing in the congressional elections.” The poll further noted that as of two months ago, “the indications for that are not so good.”
Two other factors favor the GOP’s chances as well: one, in the 10 most competitive Senate races, eight are in states currently held by Democrats; and two, Democratic incumbents are retiring in South Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana. Uber pollster Nate Silver gives Republicans an 80 percent chance of making a pick up as a result.
Perhaps the brightest spot for the GOP concerns what the WSJ characterizes as Obama’s loss of “significant altitude among core constituencies such as Hispanics and younger Americans,” in an election that “tends to swing on turnout.” Among Hispanics, Obama’s approval rating has nosedived from 67 percent in January 2013, to 44 percent in the latest poll. Younger Americans, who have been hammered by ongoing high unemployment, have long been abandoning the president, with only 41 percent approving his job performance as of last December. Moreover many of them have “buyer’s remorse” with regard to casting their votes for him in 2012. Neither of these developments bode well for Democrats.
Neither does one last unmentioned fact about the poll itself. The percentage of respondents who are “strong,” not very strong,” or “lean” Democrat is 41 percent, versus 36 percent of those who are “strong,” not very strong,” or “lean” Republican. Fifteen percent self-identified as strictly independent.” That most of the media apparently consider a five point advantage in favor of Democrats unworthy of mentioning is hardly surprising.
Neither is Obama’s fall from grace. Fox News contributor James Pinkerton illustrated why in one searing sentence. “As Iraq is falling apart, the president is in California fundraising and talking about climate change of course, and playing golf,” he said. Even before Iraq spiraled out of control, Americans apparently noticed such a stunning lack of leadership. It appears Hope and Change has finally crashed and burned.
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