Wow. It was just last week that this pollster wrote about my belief that President Obama's approval ratings would drop to somewhere in the mid-40 percentiles by early next year. It only took a matter of days. By the second week in December, Obama's approval had slipped to somewhere around 46 percent to 48 percent, depending on the poll. Those Americans who disapprove of the president's job performance had edged closer to being equal to those who approve.
If the White House wants to know why this has happened, and so fast, here goes. (Free advice from a pollster can be useful, if perhaps unwanted. That goes even for unsolicited advice to Democrats from a pollster with Republican roots.)
My take on all this is that a significant majority of Americans are preoccupied with the economy and with government spending. So when the president offers up as the answer to the nation's woes the throwing of more and more public dollars into alleged stimulus efforts to create jobs, an overwhelming percentage of Republicans and a great many independent voters are going to react negatively and passionately. That leaves only hardcore Democrats to stand by their man, the president. And the number of those who identify themselves as Democrats nationwide has been shrinking.
Most see the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) as, well, troubled. (The problems that precipitated TARP were not all of Obama's making, although his administration supervised most of its conception and implementation.) The public perception is largely that TARP is a sham that "rescued" big banks, most of which within a year or so are flushed with cash. So much so that these banks are either keeping the gift cash without extending credit to businesses in dire need or they are now able to repay the massive loans. This allows them to avoid restrictions on the compensation levels for top management.
The public is also looking askance at the earlier, federal government stimulus package. It was billed as being the catalyst that would spur significant job growth with any number of "shovel-ready" public works and other projects. Some voters may have read about or otherwise learned that the official numbers released on jobs created by the stimulus package have been grossly inflated.
More than that, most of these disenchanted Americans have a gut feeling that the economies in their home regions simply haven't improved. They infer, then, that this non-growth can be attributed at least partly to the stimulus package not doing much stimulating.
Next in line among disappointing public policies is the supposed tip of the hat to small businesses given by the White House. President Obama is right when he points out that small businesses are the biggest engine in our economy for creating jobs. What he misses is that to offer a $3,000 tax credit to small-business owners for each new employee is really no incentive at all.
What good does that $3,000 a year do if the business creates a new position at, say, $30,000 a year in salary, but then the business has to pay other costs, such as providing benefits or matching withholding, and all for a job the business was surviving without in the first place? (This oversight may stem from the fact that the president has never run a small business. That's not a slight -- just a pertinent fact.) Plus, many small businesses have no profits to speak of anyway. A tax credit really doesn't do them much good.
While all this is happening, Americans are subjected to the sight of two wannabe socialites crashing a state dinner and the president accepting the Nobel Peace Prize before he's done with even a year in office.
Most Americans just don't buy the idea that this nation can spend its way out of hard times. And most of them don't see health care reform as a top priority. So it follows that they are perplexed with the obsession about health reform coming out of the Democratic leadership offices in Congress. Given this, it's easy to see how the White House is coming to be seen as a collection of academicians whose idealism is blinding them to cold reality.
To both friends and foes of President Obama, let me point out that Ronald Reagan had similarly tough times with approval ratings at about the same point in his first term that Obama is in now. And Reagan turned things around. So don't discount what this president still may accomplish for both policy and his own popularity.
Even so, Obama's standing with the public in his first year in office is lower than that of any of his White House predecessors' in the modern era. One poll even shows nearly as many Americans wanting George W. Bush back in office as wanting Obama. Now that's a scary thought.