Friday, 24 July 2009

Obama's 'plunging' popularity

Obama's approval average, having peaked at 65.5% in the middle of February, has 'plunged' to 54.8% today according to Real Clear Politics data. Here, have a play with the graph yourself:

An article on the same website pretty much comes to the conclusion that this is not atypical and his approval rating at the six-month mark is pretty much in line with where George W Bush was at the same stage into his presidency. What can we conclude from this? Things, in normal circumstances, get tougher the longer you are in the White House. Nothing breathtaking in other words.

3,000,000+ Americans have lost their jobs since the inauguration, 14,000 are losing their healthcare every day, they are seeing iconic businesses such as GM go to the wall, times are tough. So an approval rating that has shrunk by 10% or so from its very high peak is not surprising. Obama has fallen from the stratosphere and has joined us here in the troposphere. He's the guy holding the ball in these troubled times.

But none of this is what will be preoccupying the White House. They can worry about the polls in the run-up to mid-terms next year. Their almost singular devotion is to healthcare reform. It is is now very unlikely that a bill that meets the president's goals will be passed by Congress in time for the August deadline he set. He wants a system that widens coverage to everyone who wants it, cuts costs, increases quality, and is self-financing. He's not asking much then. It looks like it will find its way through the House of Representatives but it will still face a rocky journey through the Senate.

What's the problem? Well, as E.J.Dionne says, healthcare reform is hard. Why is it hard? Well, because despite a filibuster proof 60 Senate seats and a whopping majority in the House many centrist Democrats are still nervous about this package. They are nervous about its impact on small businesses, the impression that it will reduce choice (which it won't really), whether it will be properly financed and so may add to a deficit that is understandably unpopular, and if it is properly financed where that cost will fall? 49 Democrat congressmen have to defend districts next year that John McCain 'won' in 2008. They tend to be so-called 'Blue Dog Democrats'- i.e. Democrats with a more conservative hue.

Having said that, failure can not be contemplated for the Democrats. To have tried and failed- yet again- will be even more politically catastrophic for the Democrats. So ultimately, they have reached the point of no return. This is easy for the Republicans. They can sound absolutely united on this issue. They have been opposing healthcare reform for decades. Ultimately, something has to be done on the Democrats' side.

To saddle a Democratic president -as happened with Bill Clinton- with such a monumental failure will disastrous. It may not be taking a wrecking ball to Barack Obama's presidency but it will certainly, at the very least, remove the sheen of invincibility from him. The price in political capital will be high for the Democrat in the White House and the Democrats in Congress. So this time, healthcare reform must pass. That success will be a driver towards reelection as people realise the world hasn't ended and, for many, if not the vast majority, it has gotten a whole lot better.

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