July 1, 2009

Why Obama's popularity diverges with his policies popularity

Earlier today I posted the latest Rasmussen Reports Presidential approval ratings. But if you take a look at Gallup, the results tell a slightly different story. While I'm not sold on Gallup being right about Obama, but they do have a solid reputation. What does Gallup say about the President? Gallup Daily: Obama Job Approval has his job approval at 60% and disapproval at 32%.

If that's true, then despite other polls like the ones that indicate more of the American public are conservative than liberal, that people are not comfortable with the deficit spending, that more Americans see the Democrats as being too liberal all diverge with the President's personal popularity. What gives?

The superficial answer is that Obama comes across as likable, a man you could relate to - perhaps in a somewhat similar way to Ronald Reagan. But that's too superficial. After all, the numbers just don't work. If I disagree with the President on a number of big issues, how can I possibly approve of the job he's doing? And that's the case on some issues to the tune of a 20% difference.

It would seem to boil down to three factors.

1) The disconnect in perception between policy decisions and personal impact
2) The current issues in focus
3) The delaying effects of personal likability

and also possibly

4) Gremlins.

(but we'll ignore that one for now, since there's no evidence of a concerted Gremlin effort).

When the government passes a bill like Cap and Trade, the average person does not see an immediate impact on their personal financial situation, or their personal freedom of choice. There is no direct line between the two details. Nevertheless, it happens. But because the impact is not immediately obvious, politicians can make ridiculous assertions and get away with it.

The President can talk about spending additional trillions and yet lowering the deficit because the concepts are so far removed from daily life, so esoteric, that a flimsy argument about the ability to do both can, with the right spin, appear to be reasonable.

The second disconnect is between the issues in focus and the issues of most importance to voters. Aside from the economy, people have diverse views on what is important. And since there is obfuscation and confusion on the efficacy of the Democrat solutions as noted above, the Democrats, particularly the President are afforded time and leeway. The economy is the number one concern, but it's simply too soon to see proof on whether the President's stimulus will work or fail. That it is failing to make a difference so far, is of little consequence. He still has time. When and if those policies lead to economic disaster, the Presidential approval ratings will plummet. In this climate, secondary issues take on more importance to the Presidential approval.

But the secondary issues are so diverse - abortion, immigration and amnesty, the Fairness Doctrine, global warming, 2nd Amendment rights, national defence, discrimination, and Card Check are but a few examples. There's been sporadic attention on any given one of these issues. In fact even on Fox News, there's been more coverage of Michael Jackson's death than of what has gone on in Iran this week. As the various issues bubble to the surface and then are neglected their impacts are soon forgotten.

What it means for the President is that again, he has time. If gay marriage is something an Obama supporter has pinned his hopes on, it will take time and inaction for the supporter to become embittered. Similarly if Obama decided to forge ahead on the issue he would alienate some as well. The best option for him therefore, is to do nothing. He can coast along on his goodwill. For now. But as time wears on inaction becomes an enemy to someone who has come to power based on hope and change.

Lastly, Obama's campaign inspired many. He positioned himself as a candidate of hope, change and vision. He also tried very hard to come across as likable. Remember the visit to the Tonight Show with Jay Leno? Remember the bowling? Remember the town halls and the talking about his childhood and listening to Stevie Wonder while the music teacher tried to get him to sing 'Oklahoma'? Likability. He established a cache of personal endearment with many Americans. That serves to extend the grace period for the President as well. But it does not extend it indefinitely. It buys him time.

In each of the three factors, the commonality is time. It is an asset for Obama for now, but it is a finite asset. Over time, things will change. Those of us hoping for Obama's ratings to falter lack patience. It's understandable - he's doing things at breakneck speed, and time is a luxury conservatives cannot afford. It's a conundrum, because Obama's ratings will inevitably slide. The economy ahead is replete with risk - higher unemployment, inflationary pressures, and exorbitant government debt and higher taxes to compensate. Secondary issues will be resolved to the annoyance of some in every case, or ignored for too long until hope on those issues is lost. And the President's personal popularity will become a symptom of job approval rather than the reverse.

In the meantime, conservatives need to fight every uphill battle that matters to prevent the President from redirecting the country leftward. He is using the breakneck speed approach to governance because he knows he cannot expect the same successes in two years that he is getting now. Tactically, his approach is brilliant. For the country his approach is dangerous. Unproven policies at such speed are a long odds gamble.

The President's ratings will fall. The factors that affect his job approval are going to turn. And then again it could be gremlins..

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