Saturday, September 17, 2011

Approve of his policies/disapprove of his performance: not a paradox

Greg Sargent wrestles with an apparent paradox in poll data: voters strongly approve of Obama's economic policies but disapprove of his handling of the economy to date. Methinks his explanation misses something rather basic:
What we’re seeing here, again, is more evidence that Republicans benefit from blocking policies Americans support. As long as the economy remains abysmal, the public is likely to strongly disapprove of Obama’s overall performance, even if Republicans are the ones blocking job-creation ideas the public itself thinks will reduce unemployment.
Sargent assumes that voters are judging Obama solely on the basis of whether they agree with his current preferred policies, and that many of them are being duped: they like the policies individually, but buy a Republican branding of the whole package.  That's probably true in some cases. But I suspect that a lot of people are judging Obama not for advocating the wrong policies but for failing to put his policies across.

Obama's numbers tanked after the debt ceiling deal was struck, not just because the economy also took an immediate dive, but because he was widely perceived to have been rolled by the Republicans.  There too, vast majorities preferred Obama's "balanced" approach to deficit reduction to the Republicans no-new-taxes-ever approach.  He's being punished -- rightly -- for letting the Republicans have their way. One poll even indicated that substantial numbers of Republicans wanted him to stand up to House GOP intransigence. I suspect that Democrats, though they still approve of Obama's performance overall, might themselves give him poor marks on the economy just now (the Times' published poll data doesn't break out this key question by party).  For Chrissakes, even I might disapprove of his handling of the economy, depending on what day of the week a pollster got to me.

Obama's poll numbers will improve, I suspect, not only if the economy improves, and not only if a significant chunk of his jobs package passes, but if he's widely perceived to win a pitched battle of some sort against the GOP.  That's a kind of inverse of what Obama consistently indicated he thought the country wanted: fruitful compromise between the parties. Though not really, because any substantial legislation that passes will effectively be a compromise. What he needs is a compromise that contains core elements of what he wants as opposed to what the GOP wants; he needs to "win" a compromise (arguably he did so in December of last year, but that one was a murky Rorschach). That means, I suspect, not just stimulative tax cuts -- a point of real ideological convergence, though Republicans are blocking them at the moment -- but either stimulative spending, or tax increases in the supercommittee legislation, or both.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on! Nice job. Unfortunately, I despair that Obama will never even be perceived as winning a pitched battle of some sort vs. the GOP. (I also think he's fine with the outcomes of the major "battles" so far.) I would argue that he didn't win a compromise in December. It's awfully hard to win anything when you pre-conceed.

    I found your blog via Jonathan Bernstein.

    FYI, I strongly oppose Obama's economic policies and disapprove of his handling of the economy - both from the left.