The Good News In The Polls

While recent polls do have been bad for those of us who care about preserving rationality and support for the principles this country was founded upon beyond the 2012 election, there has actually been some good news for Obama, if he can capitalize on it. Ben Smith points out that voters do like Obama:

Obama receives particularly low marks for his economic stewardship, with only 39 percent saying they approve and 59 percent saying they disapprove.
And yet, in a seeming contradiction, voters still really like Obama.

Putting aside how they feel about his job performance, 74 percent of voters said they either strongly or somewhat approve of Obama as a person, his highest rating in the past year. His solid personal popularity remains a source of pride — and hope — for top advisers who spent 2008 trying to get voters to identify with Obama, an African-American with roots in Hawaii, Indonesia and Chicago.

I would not downplay either the benefits of being liked by voters or the risks of being an incumbent when the economy is not doing well, even if it is the opposing party’s ideas which have created and prolonged this mess. There is some good news in the polls even 0n the economy. Many times in the past we have seen Republicans lead in polls despite voters preferring Democratic policies. We are seeing a phenomenon along these lines as voters in the same poll are expressing dissatisfaction over Obama on the economy while supporting his actual polices. Greg Sargent writes:

Here’s a striking disconnect that speaks volumes about Obama’s political problem right now: In the new NBC/WSJ poll, Americans express strong disapproval of Obama’s performance on the economy, and express low confidence that Obama has the right set of ideas to improve it.

And then, later in the very same poll, Americans are asked whether they support a range of Obama’s actual fiscal and economic policies. In every case, a majority or plurality supports them.

It’s true. The poll finds that only 37 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, versus 59 percent who disapprove. It also finds that only 31 percent are “extremely confident” or “quite confident” that the President has the right goals and policies to improve the economy, versus a whopping 68 percent who are only somewhat or not at all confident.

But then the pollsters ask about the policies themselves. And here’s what they find:

— A solid majority (60 percent) supports reducing the deficit by ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

— A solid majority (56 percent) supports reducing the deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

— Only 37 percent support the GOP’s solution to the deficit, i.e., reducing it only through spending cuts with no tax hikes on the rich or corporations.

— A plurality supports a federally funded roads construction bill to create jobs, 47-26, which is similar to what Obama is expected to propose in his jobs speech.

— A plurality supports continuing to extend unemployment benefits, 44-39.

— A plurality supports an extension of the payroll tax cut, 40-20.

As Steve Benen notes, this bodes well for public acceptance of Obama’s jobs speech on Thursday. After all, it would appear possible that disapproval of Obama on the economy is a referendum on the actual state of the economy, rather than on Obama’s suggested current policies for fixing it. While it’s true that the public remains skeptical of Obama’s number one solution to the economy — the stimulus — the public is clearly receptive to the current, unimplemented solutions Obama is championing, even though the same public generally disapproves of Obama’s economic performance.

This both suggests that Obama might be able to withstand a poor economy and outlines what Obama must do, not only on Thursday, but over the next fourteen months. Obama must make it clear to voters that the policies he supports are those which they have indicated they want, as well as demonstrating that Republican policies would again be disastrous for the country. A president who is liked, as the polls indicate Obama is, should have a much better shot of making this case. The mindset of the voters might better be seen not in Obama’s current poll numbers, but in the poll numbers of his opponents, including rapidly growing public distaste for the ideas of the so-called Tea Party. This is a battle of ideas which Obama still stands a reasonable chance of winning.

Republican Fringe Ideas Help Obama’s Reelection Prospects

With Rick Perry moving into a  lead for the GOP nomination, there are some conservatives who recognize that his nomination could be a disaster of Goldwater-proportions. Joe Scarborough says there is “No way” Perry could beat Obama. Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review has a realistic column for Bloomberg arguing that Obama’s weakness is leading to Republican overreach, making it hard for Republicans to win in a general election. Ponnuru wrote:

Already the Republican primaries have seen candidates take positions that will be hard sells in the fall of next year. Both Bachmann and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, want to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. Polls suggest that while the public doesn’t consider environmental protection its top priority right now, it favors regulation and trusts Democrats over Republicans on the issue. Texas Governor Rick Perry has suggested that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional and that they should be replaced by state-run programs. There’s a reason no Republican candidate since 1964 has run on a platform anything like this one on entitlements: Both programs are extremely popular.

Perry has also suggested that he disapproves of the New Deal, seeing it as a moment when the federal government began to exceed the constitutional limits of its power. He hasn’t said he wants to undo the New Deal, but it’s not out of bounds for Democrats to make the charge, given the importance he attaches to constitutionalism.

In each of these cases, provocative positions have been met by silence from rival candidates. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hasn’t come out in favor of abolishing the EPA or getting rid of federal entitlement programs, but he hasn’t denounced these ideas or even used them as an argument against the electability of the candidates who have advanced them. Evidently he believes either that the primary electorate doesn’t think these positions are politically toxic, or that it doesn’t consider electability a key concern.

If Republican voters had electability on their minds, they would also want to see the candidates address issues that concern the broader public: how to get wages growing again after years when they stagnated even during periods of growth; and what to replace Obama’s health-care reform with. But the candidates feel no pressure from primary voters to outline plans on those issues, and haven’t done so. Instead, they are focused on issues — such as the alleged threat of “sharia law” and the heavy share of income taxes paid by the rich — that are of interest only to the party faithful.

Ponnuru prefaced this discussion by a discussion of Obama’s difficulties in getting reelected, and hopefully underestimated Obama’s political skills:

Obama has never had to demonstrate great political skill in his general-election races. During both of them, he was blessed with good luck (a fringy opponent in his Senate race, and a collapsing economy during his presidential run).

To limit the discussion to general-election races ignores a major achievement in defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Although the economic situation made it difficult for a Republican to win in 20o8 (while giving Republicans an edge in 2012 due to the short memories of American voters), Obama still did run an excellent general election campaign. On the other hand, the manner in which the Republicans won the spin wars over health care reform and the stimulus after Obama took office do leave cause for concern. Obama’s chances are helped considerably due to his potential opponents being bat-shit crazy. He might also be helped by falling in the polls now, forcing him to campaign more as he did before be was elected.