Politicians will tell you they’d rather have you hate them than distrust them because hate is an emotion that can be tweaked, while trust is an investment in character – a bond that, once broken, can never fully be repaired.
The problem for President Barack Obama and Democrats is that, in poll after poll, Main Street does not trust them. Republicans are not exempt, either; while Dems keep sliding in the polls, the GOP is recording no parallel gain.
On the eve of Obama’s health-care pitch to Congress and the country last week, an Associated Press-GfK poll highlighted his fall from grace: A whopping 52 percent of the country disapproved of his handling of health-care reform.
“I can’t emphasize enough how bad it is for a politician to lose trust,” says Democratic pollster Pat Caddell, a former senior adviser to President Jimmy Carter.
“What is remarkable in all of the polls is when the president loses support, voters don’t go from ‘approving’ to ‘somewhat disapproving,’ ” Caddell explains. “They jump right to ‘strongly disapprove.’ ”
A passionate old-school liberal, Caddell has never seen anything like this in his career: “I am not quite sure what this means long-term for my party, but it can’t be good.”
The danger for Obama, he says, is the profuse bleeding of people who identify themselves as independents. “He lost his Republican support fairly quickly. That is not unusual. But to see independent voters flee, so quickly and hard, is striking.”
“And now what you are seeing is Democrats moving away, too.”
What is interesting, according to Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, is that, so far, Obama’s policies are not nearly as popular as he is.
“His honeymoon is shorter than he probably hoped, but his skill to persuade is likely sufficient to overcome this challenge,” McMahon says.
Yet Obama didn’t help his cause in last week’s speech by saying so many things that are counterintuitive to the facts.
First, he claimed his reforms will not drive up the federal deficit – although basic math shows that any of the proposals circulating on Capitol Hill will drive it up by billions of dollars.