May 9, 2009

Obama's inevitable slide

Early public support doesn't mean Obama's in the clear. It seems there's an almost inevitable slide in popularity of Presidents. From a Gallup report, Obama's ratings seem pretty good right now.

But look what happened to Reagan and what happened to Carter.


As President Reagan prepares to leave office this week, two-thirds of the American people approve his performance over the last eight years, the highest rating given any President at the end of his term since World War II.

The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll showed that Mr. Reagan has maintained this extraordinary popularity by succeeding in the two areas that are central to any President: peace and prosperity.

While 68 percent approved of his overall job performance over eight years, 71 percent supported his handling of foreign relations, particularly with the Soviet Union, and 62 percent backed his handling of the economy. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus three percentage points.
Interestingly, the above results are from the New York times and rate Reagan higher than Gallup did. Gallup has Clinton as the highest final approval rating for a President. While his ratings were definitely decent, I find it odd that they would rank higher than Reagan's.

Carter, according to Gallup's highly reported closing numbers ended in Bush 43 territory.

So while Obama may be flying high now, and he may be reversing earlier trends and eclipsing Reagan's early results, it's what's happening 3 and 4 years in that count for re-election. Remember Obama is offering policy that is like Carter, only further left. 63% to 34% may seem like a long way to fall, but Carter did it. Bush did it too. In fact other than Clinton and Reagan, everyone went down. Obama will too. But by how much?

Going by the Gallup open and close numbers above, the changes look like this:

Clinton +11%
Reagan +3%
Bush 41 -1%
Bush 43 -24%
Carter -35%
Nixon -38%

The press holds out hope that Obama will enjoy Clintonesque numbers (again, the Clinton numbers seem wonky to me). But it is far more likely that popularity will decline rather than rise. Perhaps his fall, buoyed by the parachute of a partisan press, won't be as precipitous as Carter's, but a Bush 43 decline, particularly as his policies kick in, is very possible. That would put him in the high 30's or low 40's. Worse is possible. Given his supposed messianic image, any fall to earth could be hastened by the currently elevated expectations.

Is the fall inevitable? Reagan proved to conservatives it isn't. Clinton proved to liberals it isn't. Obama has the press pumping his ratings for him with it's cheer leading. So Obama could conceivably maintain a high rating. But once the reality of the stimulus package kicks in, with the expanded debt and the expanded money supply and the resulting inflation, it just doesn't seem possible.

Maybe we're wrong on economics. Maybe Keynes was right. Maybe Marx was. Maybe capitalism is really dying and socialism is better. Or maybe, just maybe, like Obama's ratings, the press is high.

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