Free Markets, Free People

Hope and change on the rocks?

And no, that’s not a new bar drink.  It seems to be the unstated conclusion of a NY Times poll that measures the mood of the American people.

Granted, they’ll poll anything these days, and certainly all polls should be viewed cautiously, but they are an interesting peek into the thoughts of the American people.  This particular poll and the write up indicate that perhaps a Carteresqe malaise is settling in as the citizenry appears to be losing hope about economic (and other) changes for the better.  There are also some interesting comments in the story to discuss.  But first some of the poll results.  The lead:

Americans are more pessimistic about the nation’s economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama’s first two months in office, when the country was still officially ensnared in the Great Recession, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The significance here?  Well, first it is a NYT/CBS poll saying it.  Secondly it is an indication that economic fatigue may be setting in which might translate, at some point, into major political opposition to the man in charge.  It is inevitable.  That’s how it has worked in the past and certainly there’s no reason to suppose it won’t work the same way now. Whether it is enough to put a Republican in the White House is still very debatable, mostly because of the crop of candidates the GOP currently sports. However,  despite all the hope and change rhetoric this president spouted and promised, very little in the guise of either has been evident in his first two years in office.   In fact, as some on the left have said, he turned into just another president – shorthand for “he’s not what I voted for”. 

That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to abandon their man, but it does mean their enthusiasm about him is probably far below what it was in 2008.  That usually turns into a “GOTV” problem in an election year.

Here’s one of the more interesting paragraphs in the piece:

And slightly more Americans approve than disapprove of a proposal by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin to change Medicare from a program that pays doctors and hospitals directly for treating older people to one in which the government helps such patients pay for private plans, though that support derived more from Republicans and independents. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that found 65 percent opposed Mr. Ryan’s plan, suggesting results can vary based on how the question is asked.

Two points – of course it matters “how the question is asked”, which is a general comment on all polls.  Most are pretty careful about how they do that – although some either purposely or inadvertently ask questions in a leading or biased way.  I’m not saying that’s what happened in the WP/ABC poll, but it is certainly a reason to drill down into the details of a poll that seems to be (or should be) an outlier.

The second thing of interest is this statement about support for the Ryan Medicare plan: “ though that support derived more from Republicans and independents.”  Or said another way the poll split along party lines with that all important independents apparently siding slightly with Ryan.

The poll goes into some fairly disturbing numbers for Obama supporters.

Mr. Obama’s job approval remains below a majority, with 46 percent saying they approve of his performance in office, while 45 percent do not. And support for his handling of the military campaign in Libya has fallen since last month: 39 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove. In a CBS poll in March, 50 percent approved and 29 percent disapproved.

I’d suggest that they reflect a growing frustration with what the country perceives – rightly or wrongly – as an all talk, no action administration. 

For example, on the domestic front, Obama recently addressed gas prices by doing what?  Saying he’ll appoint a commission to look into them.  While he may be able to do little to influence gas pricing, appointing commissions has become recognized as a political method for avoiding any direct action on a subject.  That leads to frustration like that which has driven down the number of those in this poll who think the economy is getting better by 13 points in one month:

Disapproval of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy has never been broader — at 57 percent of Americans — a warning sign as he begins to set his sights on re-election in 2012. And a similar percentage disapprove of how Mr. Obama is handling the federal budget deficit, though more disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are.

Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign against the incumbent George HW Bush stayed focused on the real interest of the American people with his internal slogan– “it’s the economy, stupid”.  Ronald Reagan had his famous question for the American people when running against the incumbent Jimmy Carter – “are you better off today than you were 4 years ago?”  Both illustrate the power of the economy in deciding presidential outcomes – especially against an incumbent.

The poll also points out that Republicans in Congress don’t particularly come off well.  But that’s a mixed bag.  While the poll seems to concentrate on the Republican held portion of Congress – the House – you can’t help feel that any overall negative rating would include perceptions of the Democratically held Senate as well.  The approval rating for Congress is at 17% in this poll, slightly higher than the single digit numbers 111th and all Democratic Congress racked up.

And, as usual in almost all polls, the “desires” of the American people, when asked about what they want in terms of government size, benefits, etc. are, as the NYT says, both “conflicting and sometimes contradictory views.”

For instance:

Twice as many respondents said they would prefer cuts in spending on federal programs that benefit people like them as said they would favor a rise in taxes to pay for such programs.


Yet more than 6 in 10 of those surveyed said they believed Medicare was worth the costs. And when asked specifically about Medicare, respondents said they would rather see higher taxes than see a reduction in its available medical services if they had to choose between the two.


Given the choice of cutting military, Social Security or Medicare spending as a way to reduce the overall budget, 45 percent chose military cuts, compared with those to Social Security (17 percent) or Medicare (21 percent.)

That’s one of those “how the question is asked” or in this case, the choices given. What if they’d said just Social Security or Medicare?  Or Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?

But the results, as indicated, are all over the place (oh, and apparently the tax the rich mantra has been successfully sold by the left as 70% in this poll support doing that – but don’t raise their taxes.)

My personal favorite indicator is the “direction of the country” question.  A whopping 70% say it is headed in the wrong direction.  That’s huge.  But, it doesn’t mean the frustration is all pointed at Democrats or Obama.  Congressional Republicans come in for their fair share as well.

All of the angst, anger and frustration though is focused in one area:

Frustration with the pace of economic growth has grown since, with 28 percent of respondents in a New York Times/CBS poll in late October saying the economy was getting worse, and 39 percent saying so in the latest poll.

Those are not good numbers for an incumbent president.  Right now the only silver lining in the otherwise dour outlook for the Obama reelection bid in 2012 is the dearth of exciting challengers on the Republican side.   There’s just no passion evident for those who are probable for that race.  And that too evolves into a GOTV problem in 2012.

Conventional wisdom and history say the incumbent president on the downside of a bad economy should be easy pickings for the opposition party.  Unfortunately, given the GOP field at this moment, CW and history may be in for a revision. 

Regardless, the mood in the country isn’t any better now than it was in 2008 or 2010 – and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight for the growing frustration of the voters.



27 Responses to Hope and change on the rocks?

  • You can sum this all up in 4 words:  The Price of Gasoline.

    Zapped Bush, Zapped Republicans, will zap Obama and democrats.

    Although punditry wants to break it down and bloggers want to comment and the brethern want to look for deeper meaning the essential truth is how people feel every day they drive past the gas pump. 

    If gasoline were $2 per gallon, whole different ballgame.

    • While I agree that gasoline is certainly one of the most visible problems, I think it goes far deeper than that. When people hear “we’re in recovery” and “we’ve turned the corner” and “it’s getting better”, they expect too see a number of visible signs that’s true. But when they look around and see the same friends still unemployed, businesses not hiring, prices going up on food as well as gasoline, etc., they quickly become disillusioned and frustrated.

      That’s where we are in my estimation – they’ve heard it but they’re not seeing it. When they first heard it they wanted to believe it and so their confidence rose a bit. Now when they hear it they simply don’t believe it and won’t until they see the evidence with their own eyes and feel it in their own wallets.

  • “For example, on the domestic front, Obama recently addressed gas prices by doing what?  Saying he’ll appoint a commission to look into them. ”
    Well, that’s an improvement over his position two weeks ago, which was – buy a smaller car, and Freakin get used to gas for at least $4.00/gallon.
    A commission is just a signal to the middle men who are driving up the price of oil that they need to lay off, take their profit and run, before the government has to start acting like it’s going to do something to them like claim they were doing it to harm the economy, and not just for profit.

    • No,no….. not just look into them but, more specifically, to investigate if fraud is involved in the rising prices. Give him his due – he’s really zeroing in on this one – our fearless, rudderless, worthless leader. Sure makes me feel good he’s taking things seriously. Wadda a guy!

    • More likely a sign that nothing will actually be done for at least 6-9 months.

  • It’s really not all that surprising that Øbama’s grand income redistribution plan is backfiring in his face, given he’s really not all that bright or calling the shots. Progressivism, Marxism & Socialism represent the “Trifecta of Failure”; but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a world full of True Believers willing to exert far more effort in Taking your money, than attempting to earn their own.

  • Obama in October [2008] called for a $175 billion stimulus measure, but his comments in the radio address on Saturday signaled he was prepared to push for a much larger package, though he did not give a price-tag.
    The economic recovery plan being developed by his staff aims to create 2.5 million jobs by January 2011, and he wants to get it through Congress quickly and sign it soon after taking office.

    $175 billion stimulus measure ? So what is Krugman complaining about all the time ?
    I’m no economist, nor an actor playing an economist, but the words “EPIC FAIL” seem to apply.

    • “Clueless” works here too.He’s just a mouth-piece. Not an original thought in that vessel on top of his shoulders. When he is off script he his busy concentrating on breathing to stay alive.

  • Just based on the crap sandwich the Republicans are offering for presidential candidates, my guess is we’re about to jump into the way back machine. Big majority in congress, slim majority in Senate and a Democrat sitting in the White House. Be nice if we could at least have the economic bubble back.

  • At this point in the previous Presidential cycle, it was Hillary Clinton with a clear 55/45 win over Rudy Guiliani.

    You might as well stop fretting about the thin GOP bench. None of the serious candidates haven’t sat on the bench yet because all of the candidates with the brain power and political chops to win this know that you don’t paint that target on yourself in this still-hostile media environment in April of the preceding year! You can’t help giving the media some significant time to test out attacks and work out which ones stick and which ones don’t, especially as the news cycle gets ever shorter, but you don’t have to give them the better part of an extra year to test them out.

    There are many good names, some of which can probably win, and it’s good they haven’t spoken yet. Trump is unserious and if Palin comes out anytime in the next freaking six months as a candidate she’ll prove she’s unserious too.

    • Throw a few names out there Jeremy.

      • I’d vote for Fred Thompson, Bobby Jindal, or Chris Christie, whose first name I just learned. Any of them could do well with the right campaign. I won’t guarantee victory, but they’d do well.

        As for their various negatives, sure, if you’re waiting for the perfect candidate you’re not going to see them. But it’s not like there’s nobody who the Republicans could nominate that would be any good. There’s nobody any good sticking their neck out yet.

        Please don’t tell me that they couldn’t win the nomination or anything. It is way too early to be confidently declaring who does or does not have the nomination locked up. Clinton over Guiliani 55/45, remember? If history is any indication we can actually write off any clear leader that appears in the next six months on the grounds of peaking too early.

        Further, I don’t guarantee that the Republicans will nominate a good candidate. That would in fact be counter to my point, which is that pretty much any name floating around name is almost certainly one you can eliminate. For instance, Trump is not a threat. There is no way this country is going to vote Trump after listening to him promote himself for a solid year and a half after we’ve all already stopped watching the Apprentice. Anybody who is peaking now is peaking a year too early.

        • Forget Christie.
          The issue at hand is who survives the press gouging. With the exception of Michele, I just don’t see folks catching fire much less living through the torture of the witches’ dunking pool. (I’ll try to do better about mashing metaphors.)
          Flip a coin, Thompson or Jindal /Jindal or Thompson. That pair is like outdoor survival flint and steel fire starters!
          On his own, Thompson ran the original stealth campaign and threw in the towel simply because he went in too early and could not see just how much support he had.
          Remember too, It was Thompson as a top aide to Sen. Baker during the Watergate hearings who coined the phrase, “What did he know and when did he know it?” No amount of bad press is going to be able to smear Fred on that score.
          Jindal has shown the kind of leadership in a crisis that Obama could never muster. No one in the press is going to be able to smear Jindal precisely because the press has played the race card to the point of uselessness. … I can see it now. Where’s Jindal’s birth certificate?
          Either one could out debate the O using just a hand full of words written on just one hand. Biden could never rescue O in any situation if O had to actually go one on one with either contender.
          No amount of presidential BS and fawning press corps will be able to stop a change in government especially if the economy does not magically improve in the next quarter or two.
          Not so paradoxically, I pray for $!2 a gallon gas prices.

          • Remember after Baracky was elected, the conventional wisdom (*SNORT*) was that a party – especially the GOP – could never again get away with running a boring regular white guy?  Yeah, I’ll tell you what, running a guy who may be boring but is competent  (think a sitting or former governor) will win*  

            * – The caveat being that the election must be made to be a referendum on Barack’s record and not if the GOP candidate wants to kill children and elderly, or merely just the elderly.  God knows what despicable actions the MSM will engage in to ensure their guy makes his 2nd term

          • Shark, you are dead on.
            When the Republicans do begin the debating series, it must all be about Obama. It seems to me that when they decide to lay down the ground rules, the Republicans agree to announce their positions and then get on with the business of thrashing Obama. An imaginary example:
            Candidate #1: “This is my platform, A, B, and C and this is how I will do my part to destroy Obama Care. Candidate #2: Yes Ma,am/Sir. I agree with points A and B but I think my point D is better which is beside the point because here we must remember that Obama has spent more money than the grains of the sands on a beach or the countable starts in the heavens–this insanity must be stopped and now! Candidate #3. Hum, good, valid points all but let us remember the most excellent misadventure in Libya. Why all the folks in these fifty seven states can see the incredible mistake Obama has made by his mad rush to bow and scrape. Candidate #4: Heh, I see what you mean. You can bet that all of those folks who speak Austrian are keenly aware of the error.
            … and so it might go.
            Heck if the press can create a journolist, I can’t a imagine a thing in the world stopping the Republicans to agree to stay out of each other’s hair and land with both feet on Obama’s track record.

  • Mighten the reason there are few Republican candidates is Obama is now on a one man wrecking crew destroying himself against an unseen populace AKA the TEA party, to use the words of Churchill, why kill a man when he is commiting suicide.

  • The similarity between the mood of the country now, and the mood of the country at this point in Jimmy Carter’s occupation of the white house is striking.  If anything, Obama has Carter looking competent by that measurement.

  • How do you address a campaign in front of a mostly utterly clueless nation?

  • The New Yorker has put its finger on the true Obama Doctrine: “Leading from behind.” That’s supposed to be a compliment and an insight:

    Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.”


    • “leading from behind.”
      Ah, as fans of the Niven/Pournelle universe know – that makes him “the Hindmost”.  How appropriate.