Monday, June 22, 2009


The conventional wisdom (per Politico) is that President Obama's approval ratings are starting to wilt, and in the search for the reason, we have a conventional-wisdom winner: it's the deficit!

Analyzing her firm's latest poll, Gallup's Lydia Saad said it is "not clear what's behind the decline" in the president's numbers, but she pointed to growing concerns over the administration's deficit spending as a likely cause.

And there's been some slippage in a new Washington Post/ABC poll. Hmmm -- why? Perhaps this?

... many people disapprove as approve of his handling of the federal budget deficit. On the deficit, intensity runs against the president, with 35 percent "strongly" disapproving, compared with 22 percent who say they are solidly behind his efforts.

More broadly, worries about the deficit remain widespread, with almost nine in 10 Americans saying they are "very" or "somewhat" concerned about its size.

There's just one problem with that analysis: If you look at the Post/ABC numbers, you see that concern about the deficit was being expressed even before Obama was inaugurated, and is barely higher than it was a month before he took the oath of office:

Sure, the percentage who are "very" concerned has gone up since December, when Bush was still president -- but it's also gone down (somewhat) since April. Overall concern has barely budged. So, um, how can this be the reason for "wilting" or whatever is happening to Obama's approval?

In fact, how wilted are his numbers? Gallup has him at 57% approval, 35% disapproval. The new Post/ABC poll has him at 65% approval, 31% disapproval. The latest New York Times/CBS poll has it 63%-26%. NBC/Wall Street Journal? It's 56%-31%.

Now, where was George W. Bush in June 2001?

... Gov. James S. Gilmore III of Virginia, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, took the unusual step of arranging a conference call with reporters today to counter publicity about polls showing that Mr. Bush's approval rating is around 50 percent.

... a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll published today put Mr. Bush's approval rating at 50 percent, the lowest presidential approval rating in five years. Another survey released today, by Reuters and Zogby, showed Mr. Bush was popular with 51 percent of those polled.

The decline was also apparent in the New York Times/CBS News Poll, published June 21, which found that Mr. Bush's job approval rating stood at 53 percent, down seven points from March....

Let's see: at that time the unemployment rate was 4.5% and Bush had just signed into law a huge tax cut. Right now the unemployment rate is more than twice that and Obama has presided over massive amounts of pain. And yet Bush's numbers were far worse than Obama's.

People aren't feeling the effects of the stimulus and aren't seeing much evidence of stimulus activity. People don't like seeing large amounts of money going to guys in expensive suits while they themselves get nothing. To the extent that people are upset, that's what's bothering them -- I'd say more than the deficit.

But the public is still on Obama's side -- more than it was on Bush's at this time in '01.

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