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The CNN Poll & the SOTU

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Today's national poll comes to us courtesy of CNN which released its survey Tuesday afternoon.

The top-line number in this poll - approve/disapprove (Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President?) has Obama hanging in at 49-50; under water but just.

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Being minus-one on the approve/disapprove is troublesome enough for the White House, but let's look back to his February 2009 numbers and see how he has fared as Americans have gone from judging Obama in the afterglow his election and inauguration to twelve months of actual performance.

Remember, this week has Obama's approval is at 49-50. In CNN's poll taken on February 18-19, 2009 Obama's job approval was 67-29 a margin of 38 percentage points.


So, let's do a little higher math. The margin between a good mark (approve) and a bad mark (disapprove) has gone from +38 to -1 or a difference of -40 which if it is not an off-the-cliff number it is certainly in the careening downhill range.

The poll went on to list a series of Obama attributes. The respondent was asked for each one whether it applied to the President or not.

For instance, "Can [Obama] bring needed change?" got a 53-47 applies/doesn't apply result. Plus 6. But looking again at February poll respondents then said the question about bringing change applied by 69-49. Plus 40.

The decline in Americans' confidence in Obama being a change agent has gone from +40 to +6 or down 34 percentage points.

Yikes! That is a big change.

You can see the whole list of these attribute questions on the Secret Decoder Ring page today but if you do you will see that on every one of them - and there are eight that CNN shared with us - Obama is down at least 22 percentage points from his February numbers.

The largest drop - 40 points - is on the question of whether Obama, "Is a strong and decisive leader?" In this poll 60 percent of respondents agreed, 39 disagreed (+21) which, standing alone looks pretty good.

But, if you compare that with his numbers in February on the leadership question, 80-19 (+61) you can see that he has lost forty percentage points.

Ok, as you know polls are polls. The winners send blast e-mails; the losers say "shut up and deal," but these numbers are beginning to settle in and I guarantee you they were being passed around in the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms in both the House and Senate as soon as they came out yesterday.

Keep in mind, too, that this poll comes on the heels of the Massachusetts Massacre last Tuesday. The President had to go up to campaign for Martha Coakley which puts her on a list of Presidential endorsement failures including the Democrats running for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey, the Chicago Olympic bid, and the Copenhagen global warming conference to name four that come immediately to mind.

In light of the CNN poll, does the President have to give the Greatest Speech of His Charmed Life tonight to save his Presidency?

No. Of course not.

I'm not sure I can remember a President blowing a State of the Union speech. The House chamber is packed and the Members of the President's party are primed (especially the House Members) to stand, stomp, cheer, and applaud at the drop of a semicolon so President Obama will do well.

In the post-speech punditry-fests, it will be judged a standard Goldilocks speech. Depending upon who is scoring it will have been sooo goood, tooo looong, or juuuust right.

Someone will have the job of counting how many times he will have been interrupted by applause, how many minutes the speech went, and how many legislative initiatives he will have asked for.

For as much time and attention spent on the SOTU, they tend to have relatively little lasting effect other than when an "Axis of evil" line comes spinning out (George W. Bush, 2002) or a Lenny Skutnik (Ronald Reagan, 1982) is celebrated sitting in the gallery.

Starting Thursday morning, the problems facing the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will be the same ones they faced when they went to work today: A President who has frittered away his political capital on policies which most Americans don't like.

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