Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Polling Update

Barack Obama's approval ratings are up a bit...he's back up to 50% in Gallup today and has been in the high 40s for a month now, and he's a bit higher elsewhere. Pollster's average has him up to 48% and "right side up" (approval > disapproval) for the first time in six months or so. It's possible that some of this is a rally effect from Tucson, but note that both Gallup and the larger average have had Obama rallying since early December.

Keeping in mind what Nate Silver said about the weak relationship between approval ratings this far out and eventual reelection, this is still obviously good news for Obama and the Democrats. As I said when Obama first reached 50% in Gallup a couple of weeks ago, perhaps the biggest takeaway is to remind everyone, again, that there's no reason for anyone to expect Obama to underperform the fundamentals in 2012. And in the meantime, as we perhaps approach a major budget confrontation this spring, the odds of Democrats rallying to the White House increase as Obama's poll ratings increase, while the odds of Republican solidarity against him decrease. Of course, there's plenty of time between now and March for all sorts of changes in presidential approval.

I would add one thing: contrary to what Andrew Sullivan and Christina Romer advise, I think the White House would be foolish to take polling on the deficit at face value as the president moves to the State of the Union speech and then the upcoming budget battle with Republicans. Romer says:
Voters made it clear last November that they were fed up with red ink. President Obama should embrace the reality that his re-election may depend on facing up to the budget problem.
But as usual we don't really know what voters were thinking in general, and specifically voters have often claimed to care about deficits without acting on that concern, or indeed without adopting opinions on specific policies that would conform to their stated beliefs about budget deficits. If the White House thinks that deficit reduction will help short-term (that is, through November 2012) economic growth, then it's probably better to do that from an electoral point of view even if it will mean adopting unpopular spending cuts or higher taxes. If not, then there's no electoral reason to give anything more than lip service to deficits while putting the real weight of the the presidency behind pro-growth policies.

1 comment:

  1. Part of the problem could be that issues are polled in isolation so voters end up contradicting themselves calling for lower taxes and a smaller deficit. They want action on a problem and if one side obstructs they favor bipartisan action. I'd say, somewhat cynically, that voters really want is someone else to pick up the tab. Or their own interests protected. The Republicans understand this and that's why they frame things like tax cuts for millionaires as in the larger public's interest. Frame is a nice word for it anyway.

    I'm not sure that a budget fight will rally each party home because Obama does seem fairly likely to me to tack toward the middle and call for some spending cuts, which could agitate those to his left. But I agree with you, the economy will surely trump deficits (even the Republicans banked on this when they said the deficits from the Bush cuts don't matter in light of the economic crisis) and so the most stimulative spending and tax rates probably both need protection.

    I actually think Obama is more willing to take political risks than he is given credit for. An example is the Ground Zero Mosque. I personally believe he felt it was in our national security interest and of our military to present an image to the world, the Muslim world, of the US being inclusive of Muslims and decided as president it was his responsibility to do so, the obvious political risks for him notwithstanding. It's very possible, he might likewise feel the debt is a genuine problem and balance electoral concerns with policy ones.

    But I'm not so naive as to think Obama will commit electoral suicide by doing anything to impede economic recovery. I do think he was wise politically to reschedule the Bush tax cut debate for 2012 where permanent Bush tax cuts for the richest will be a losing issue for the GOP.


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