Friday, January 15, 2010

The State of the President Part 1: The Polls

As President Obama gets ready to deliver his State of the Union address (which, thankfully, will not conflict with the season premier of Lost, which would have been a deal-breaker for me, and not just for watching the speech but for supporting the president at all), I thought I'd give my own little state of the president.

Let's start with the polls in this post and then get to specific issues and opinions in the next post.

Americans like Pres. Obama. You may disagree with his policies, but you can't disagree with the polls that show his popularity remains fairly high. Take a look at his favorability ratings here. Remember to scroll down and look through all the polls. After the mean-spirited contention of the health care debate and the attacks on the president from the right, I was expecting some dismal numbers. It turns out, however, that he is sitting around +15 across the board, which is a big number.

Favorability measures how much we like Pres. Obama, which is a lot, but job approval might be a little more substantive. Yet even here we see that the president is holding his own after a difficult first year in office. Take a look at some polls here and here and the Gallup daily tracking here. He has a stable number since around last August or September fluctuating between +3 and +10. Again, this was a brutal year to be a politician, and president in particular, and he came out with the support of the majority of Americans.

Now for the more sobering polls. When it breaks down to specific issues there are some major areas of concern. See the polls here. On domestic issues Pres. Obama typically gets poor marks. On the economy he's about -10, on healthcare he is about -15, on taxes he's about even, on jobs he's about -10. Those aren't good, but I will say a couple things about them. The economy has, by all indicators, hit its nadir and is on the rise. This year should see solid growth, so I expect improved numbers on the economy, taxes, and jobs. If the economy continues to dawdle along, though, those numbers could get even worse.

As for health care, many polls are showing (example here) that more people disapprove of the bill for not going far enough than for going too far. So it is not the case that a strong majority disapproves of the direction of health insurance reform, a strong majority actually wants the reform. So I expect that once the bill is passed and the hysteria has died down these numbers will improve some because the large portion of the president's base which is showing dissatisfaction will come back around. That is the nature of bases.

On the international front, the president is getting much better marks from the American people. On foreign affairs he's around +5 (and with such efficient response to the Haiti earthquake, government aid is already on the ground there, that could go up), on Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism he is anywhere from even to about +8 or so.

So a strong majority of Americans have a favorable opinion of the president and a solid majority approve of the job he is doing. This after one of the most contentious partisan years America has endured in quite some time.

Liberals, I sense, are starting to feel defeated, but this is qualified good news I think. We gave away a public option, Copenhagen essentially failed, and Democrats are facing losses in the midterm elections. But it has only been one year of a four-year first term for the president and progress is being made and a majority of America still supports our president. Once the health insurance bill is passed and the government moves on to focusing on the economy, jobs, and energy reform things should start to look better, but there is no question that right now Democrats are hurting, and liberals are hurting even more.

This coming year, though, may be crucial, which is where we'll pick up next week.


Clark Goble said...

While I doubt we'll see the economy like it was last January I also don't think we're going to see the kind of serious economic growth we need. If we are more or less where we are now come October then Democrats are in serious trouble.

Not that I think politicians, by and large, have a huge impact on the economy. They can make some stupid policies (like encouraging larger home ownership by those who probably shouldn't be owning homes). But even the effect of that along with Freddie and Fannie have been exaggerated by Republicans. (Which is not to say it wasn't a large contributing factor to the problems of the last few years)

Remember George Bush senior and what happened to him when the economy wasn't as good as people wished. He was punished, largely unfairly. (Although obviously it was Perot who gave Clinton the win - but I think the economy helped Perot be taken seriously as well)

The only thing helping Democrats right now is that as bad trouble as they are in Republicans are offering little beyond criticisms of Democrats. Republicans are, and have been for the last six years, their own worst enemies.

Anyway, while it's possible unemployment will be down to 5 or 6% come 2012 I personally would be very surprised. That makes Obama very weak. Although a lot depends upon Republicans fielding an intelligent candidate. (Something I don't think they've done a good job of since Bush I - although Democrats until Obama weren't exactly picking the top of the litter either)

Daniel H said...

I must say that by and large I am pleased with what President Obama has done and is trying to do. I know that he and other politicians have precious little effect on the economy aside the blunders that Clark has mentioned, I mean, after all, how many financial crashes do we need to see to realize that financial de-regulation is a Bad Thing?

Suffice to say, I'm happy with him. And speaking more locally, I'm hopeful that the Utah Democratic party (aka, D.I.N.O.'s) will field a decent candidate, because I am not at all impressed with Mr. Herbert.

Clark Goble said...

I'm no Libertarian so I'm not opposed to regulation. That said, I'm very skeptical that regulation will solve the problems that many liberals say it will. That's primarily because liberals tend to focus on the regulations themselves rather than the "executive" implementation of them. The problem is, as we saw with Freddie and Fannie - both highly regulated - there is too much opportunity for political games. Likewise just because something is not supposed to happen doesn't mean regulators will notice. Finally most regulative agencies are woefully understaffed for their roles. Congress has a tendency to pass regulations to make it seem like they are solving problems and then never fund the agencies properly. (It's sadly a kind of bait and switch both parties seem to enjoy to make voters think they are being effective)

As I said Fannie and Freddie are the obvious examples of this problem. But I think the Fed itself is an other example. While it's isn't a regulative agency proper it clearly has some similar functions. Yet they failed as well.

Now I do agree that back when congress was looking at certain regulations about leveraging loan insurance there probably should have been some regulation. Congress had the opportunity and didn't pass it. Yet also sadly the kinds of regulations Congress tends to pass often is stupid. (That is an area might need regulation but so many congress people are so ignorant of the real issues that we end up with stupid, often counterproductive laws - especially in finance) There's also a real issue of unintended consequences. I think many people - even on the left - think some parts of Sarbanes Oxely for instance are quite bad. Primarily because of the way political influence goes but also because it was done in the immediate aftermath of Enron.

Put simply, regulation and populism are a very, very, very bad mix. I think Obama is actually being very wise in this as you'll note he's not pushing for immediate reformation of the finance sector. I don't think conservatives have given him sufficient credit here. (Likewise I think the Republican congress under Bush often passed very bad regulation)

Dallin said...

I'm not sure we're reading the same polls. reported that 52% of people feel Obama has done either "not very much" or "little or nothing". 54% disapprove of how he's handled the economy and 58% disapprove of his healthcare strategies. And this is good news?

The New York Times reported on January 12 that 46% approved of Obama overall while 41% disapproved. These numbers are bad news for a first-year president.

Frankly, the dropping polls numbers are an accurate reflection of how he has been doing. He has done some things very well. I loved that he wanted to talk to school kids, for example. I also love that he's going after the antitrust exemption for insurance companies.

But he's had his share of blunders, too. His budget is an absolute mess. His war strategy still appears uncertain. And close to my heart as an economist, I'm pretty sure he's never taken (or at least paid attention to) an economics class.

He still has time on his side to turn things around. I honestly hope he does-- he has the ability to be a great leader at a time when America really needs a great leader. But so far he's just another greedy, partisan politician.

Jacob S. said...

Dallin, I'm not saying it is all good news, I just think there is some good news in there after such a bad first year. Take a look at the links I provided (some of which are to and look at the aggregate of the polls. I purposefully did not just point out one or two polls to make my point.

He gets predictably bad numbers on health care because it was so contentious and neither side is happy with the compromise. He gets predictably bad numbers on the economy because we are only now getting to the bottom of the worst economy since the Great Depression. But overall he has a majority of Americans that have a favorable view of him and think he is doing a job.

The numbers aren't stunning, but given the context I think this is a major win for him. And the context is that nearly everything that could go wrong went wrong this year. If Pres. Clinton was the teflon president, Pres. Obama may be the properly-Pammed president.

Dallin said...

I like your comparison of Obama to Clinton-- very amusing. Perhaps accurate as well. I just don't know if it will be enough. His numbers are pretty low for a first-year president, and his policy decisions aren't helping. As you said, no one is happy with healthcare, Bush's Iraq war blunder is giving way to Obama's Afghanistan war blunder and, as I suggested previously, his decisions on economic policy have been horrendous. The likelihood of a Republican congress for the second half of his term won't help him much, either. Both sides are stubborn as mules when it comes to partisanship.

But again, he still has time. He can shift the momentum back in his favor. It won't be easy, though.

Clark Goble said...

What's worse is people won't really see results from the health care bill (assuming it passes) for years. So it'll be hard to campaign on for 2012 beyond the mere fact it was passed. So Obama really is rolling on the economy being better then. But a double dip recession is a very real danger. There are still lots of economic dangers out there. And, as I said, even if we're out of the recession but unemployment is high (as many if not most economists predict) then Republicans have a ton to campaign on. Democrats have been handing Republicans a win but never underestimate the Republican ability to alienate voters through stupidity.

Clark Goble said...

To add, before counting Obama out folks ought see the chart Yglesias put up today. Reagan and Obama are tracking quite similarly. Of course there are big differences. Reagan and Volker did some major course corrections to economic policy from Nixon through Carter. And it had immediate negative consequences. But Reagan's recession was nothing like this one. By 84 Reagan could campaign on the economy. I think this recession is bad enough that Obama just won't be able to do that. Further Obama, despite largely following Bush on foreign policy, doesn't own the war on terror the way Reagan owned the cold war (and used it against Democrats). Obama won't get credit for Iraq and I think the chances for success in Afghanistan and Pakistan by 2012 are remote at best. The best he can hope for is that a pull out in 2011 makes Americans feel better.