Free Markets, Free People
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.”
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.