Obama Approval Now Rises To Reagan-Levels As Economy Improves

president-obama-in-the-white-house

An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Obama’s approval reaching 50% on the eve of his State of the Union Address:

Obama’s overall approval rating now stands at 50 percent, the highest in a Post-ABC poll since the spring of 2013. His standing is nine points higher than in December and seven points higher than in October, just before Republicans captured control of the Senate, increased their House majority to its highest level in eight decades and recorded advances in the states.

The Post-ABC survey puts the president’s approval rating slightly higher than some other recent public polls. But most have shown improvement since the November elections as the president has moved aggressively and unilaterally on issues such as immigration and climate change.

A breakdown of the poll also shows greater support for Obama than for Republicans on the issues, which could be significant now that Obama will be facing a Republican-controlled Congress. These numbers put him well on course to exceed Ronald Reagan’s approval at this point in his presidency, which is quite an improvement after the many comparisons to George Bush’s approval ratings last year.

It is far too early to predict where his popularity will be at the time of the 2016 election. Nate Cohn, looking at his average improvement and not this specific poll, wrote on the political impact Obama’s popularity might have on the 2016 election:

There is a well-established relationship between the pace of economic growth and a president’s approval ratings, and Mr. Obama is clearly benefiting from signs of accelerating economic growth. For the first time since the start of the recession, more Americans believe the economic conditions are good or excellent than poor. Consumer confidence rose to an 11-year high last week, according to the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index…

Only a handful of modern elections have not had an incumbent president on the ballot. In these contests, the president’s approval ratings are unsurprisingly less important than when a president is running for re-election. So Mr. Obama’s approval ratings will matter in 2016, but it is hard to say exactly how much.

The balance of evidence suggests that the break-even point for the presidential party’s odds of victory is at or nearly 50 percent approval. If the only thing you knew about the 2016 election was Mr. Obama’s approval rating on Election Day, you might guess that the Democrats had a 37 percent chance of holding the White House with a 46 percent rating — rather than a 23 percent chance with a 41 percent rating. The difference between 41 and 46 might be worth between one and two percentage points to the Democratic candidate in 2016 — the difference between a close race and a modest but clear Republican victory.

Mr. Obama’s surge among Hispanic voters might be particularly telling. It is a sign that Democratic-leaning voters dissatisfied with Mr. Obama’s performance might not be so disillusioned that they can’t be lured back to the Democrats by the issues and messages that brought them to the party in the first place. The president’s ratings among liberals and Democrats remain mediocre — perhaps only in the low 70s and low 80s, respectively — suggesting that there are additional, low-hanging opportunities for Mr. Obama and his party’s next nominee.

 

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Gallup Finds Increase In Self-Described Liberals

Gallup Liberals

In a poll of limited significance, Gallup has found an increase in the number of self-described liberals:

Conservatives continued to outnumber moderates and liberals in the U.S. population in 2014, as they have since 2009. However, their 14-percentage-point edge over liberals last year, 38% vs. 24%, is the smallest in Gallup’s trends since 1992. The percentage of U.S. adults identifying themselves as politically conservative in 2014 was unchanged from 2013, as was the percentage of moderates, at 34%, while the percentage considering themselves liberal rose a percentage point for the third straight year.

While not a huge number, this might contradict the idea that the Republican midterm victory was a sign of greater support for conservative views.

I find this to be of limited significance as people tend to take more liberal positions on polls than would be expected if self-described labels had a real bearing on political positions. I have generally seen this poll to be more a measure of the demonization of the word liberal by the right wing noise machine than a measure of ideological beliefs, and perhaps this trend shows that conservatives are having less success in demonizing liberals.

Besides polling on issues, I find the recent Pew survey on religious affiliation to be more meaningful than this poll. Among their findings which might be of significance in speculating on political trends, Pew found that “Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”

Another finding of interest is that, while 70 percent of Republicans label themselves conservative, only 44 percent of Democrats label themselves liberal. Is this due to a majority of Democrats not being liberal, or again due to people simply avoiding the term liberal? I suspect it is a combination of each, with the Democratic Party being a more centrist party, but also with many Democrats supporting liberal positions without using the liberal label.

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Goals Of The New Republican Congress: Repeal Obamacare Despite Success In Lowering Uninsured, Declare War On Math, Promote Pseudoscience To Restrict Abortion

Uninsured 2015

While Republicans are probably on the verge of voting yet again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and will continue to make false claims that it has been a failure, Gallup shows once again how successful the law has been. The uninsured rate has fallen to 12.9 percent, down from 17.1 percent a year ago. The open enrollment period for 2015 remains open making it likely that the uninsured will fall further, especially if there is a last minute surge in people enrolling as last year. The number will further increase if more states go ahead and accept the expanded Medicaid program, and more people are also likely to receive insurance from employers with the trend towards decreased unemployment. Gallup also found that most who have obtained insurance plan to continue coverage, either through the same or a different insurance company.

Even before the inevitable vote to repeal Obamacare, the new Republican controlled Congress has declared war on math, as Jonathan Chait described it, and have introduced a national ban on abortions after twenty weeks. I recently discussed the pseudo-science used by Republicans to justify this, and there is more at Think Progress.

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Red State Republicans Are A Minority Of Population Despite Senate Gains

Congress

The Senate is probably the strongest example of how our political system is (small-d) non-democratic. Each state receives two Senators, regardless of size, and the District of Columbia, with a population greater than several states, receives zero. The difference in size between the smallest and largest states has also increased significantly since this compromise was reached in the writing of the Constitution. A combination of factors including Senate races primarily in red states, the usual problems faced by either party in the sixth year of a presidency (with Republicans even losing control of the Senate under Ronald Reagan), and several tactical errors by Democratic candidates, led to the Republicans taking control. However, Vox has an interesting calculation:

But here’s a crazy fact: those 46 Democrats got more votes than the 54 Republicans across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. According to Nathan Nicholson, a researcher at the voting reform advocacy group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”

Republicans also receive an advantage in the House due to a combination of gerrymandering and the fact that Democratic votes are more concentrated in cities, leading to Democrats winning a smaller number of districts by higher margins, and in some years allowing Republicans to control the House with a minority of the vote.

Republicans will be forced to defend more seats in blue states in 2016 but the magnitude of the Republican pick up in 2014 will make it much harder for Democrats to actually regain control. The Atlantic looked at key election races, pointing out:

Democrats will be benefiting from a favorable landscape, with Republicans defending 24 seats (many of them in blue territory) while Democrats will be defending only 10. To leverage that advantage into control of the Senate, however, Democrats need to net at least four seats (five, if Republicans win the presidency). That requires sweeping out blue-state freshman Republicans in states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin while also defeating a couple of brand-name senators, such as Rob Portman or Marco Rubio, in perennial swing states.

Other factors could help Democrats in 2016 beyond the geography. The economy will hopefully be even stronger, unless the Republican-controlled Congress, or even factors beyond political control, create further problems. The Affordable Care Act will be even more established, assuming Republicans aren’t successful in dismantling it in Congress or the courts, and might be less of a divisive political issue. Perhaps most importantly, the Democrats will be running a more national campaign behind a presidential candidate as opposed to running as Republican-lite and hiding from Obama.

The Los Angeles Times reports, Obama to hit the road, selling economic progress:

Eager to stay on the offensive as new Republican majorities are seated in Congress, the president plans to take a more bullish economic message on the road next week in something of an early test drive of his State of the Union message.

During stops in Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee, Obama plans to draw a connection between actions his administration took early in his presidency and increasingly positive economic trends in sectors such as manufacturing and housing.

Officials say he’ll also offer specific new proposals — some that he’ll pursue with Congress and others he’ll advance with his own authority — that are intended to build on that progress, particularly for the middle class.

It’s an approach that upends the traditional White House script to start the year, when new policy rollouts are usually reserved for the president’s annual address to Congress.

But the White House is eager to sustain momentum  it says started to build after November with major actions on immigration and Cuba as Obama began what he calls the “fourth quarter” of his presidency.

Obama, and other Democrats, should have been made the successes of Democratic policies the major point of the campaign, as opposed to running away from their successes. They might have still lost in deep red states, but Democratic turnout would have been better and they would have done better in less red areas. Besides the benefits of running on Obama’s previous record, as a result of Obama’s post-election actions his approval has shot up in the Gallup and other polls.

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Republican State Governments Expected To Renew The Culture Wars And Promote Conservative Pseudo-Science On Abortion

Democrats made a tremendous tactical mistake in the 2014 midterms. As the key Senate battles were in red states, Democrats ran as Republican-lite and Obama stayed quiet. As a consequence, turn out was at historic lows as Democratic voters saw no reason to turn out across the country, giving Republicans increased control in both Congress nationally along with in many state governments. (In contrast, once Obama became active after the election, his support shot up in the Gallup poll and multiple other polls).

While many Republicans ran with little talk of their positions on social issues, knowing that doing so might get many more people to turn out to vote against their unpopular views, The Washington Post points out that they plan to pursue conservative goals on social issues now that they are in office:

Renewal of culture wars

A new round of the culture wars is also inevitable in 2015. Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List, said she expects that measures to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will advance in Wisconsin, South Carolina and West Virginia. Missouri, too, is likely to take up some abortion-related bills.

In Tennessee, voters gave the legislature new powers to regulate abortion, and state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) has said her chamber will take up three measures requiring mandatory counseling, a waiting period and stricter inspections of clinics.

Conservative efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks are based on ignoring science, just as many conservatives do in denying evolution and climate change. Conservatives make pseudo-scientific claims that the fetus can feel pain at this point, despite the cerebral cortex not being developed until well after this point. There is no real controversy over this point in medicine. Conservatives sometimes twist studies showing simple reflexes as indicating that the fetus is feeling pain. Often they misquote researchers to falsely claim their is a scientific basis for their bogus claims. More on this faux controversy over the science here and here.

The 20 week ban is especially harmful to the rights of women as fetal abnormalities are often not discovered until after this point. It is understandable that a woman who discovers after 20 weeks that she is carrying a fetus which has severe brain abnormalities which would prevent survival might want to abort, but Republicans would deny them this choice by setting an arbitrary limit before such abnormalities are apparent. It is also feared that once they set the line at 20 weeks they will use more pseudo-science to justify moving it up.

Conservatives have also practiced pseudo-science in trying to make the abortion debate over the moment when life begins, when development of the human embryo and fetus is a continuum. Conception is a process without an exact moment at which it occurs, and even fertilization can take twenty-four hours.

If conservatives are really concerned about preventing fetal pain their policies are counterproductive. Late term abortions are very rare in this country, primarily done when the mother’s health is in danger. Another common reason for abortions being delayed until after 20 weeks is the inability of the mother to obtain the abortion earlier, often due to roadblocks placed by Republicans making abortions more difficult to obtain. Of course Republican opposition to contraception further increases the number of abortions. If conservatives were consistent in desiring to prevent fetal pain, they should facilitate the ability of women to obtain both contraception and to obtain early abortions even beyond twenty weeks and before the actual ability to feel pain is present.

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Obama Approval Reaches 48%

Obama Affordable Care Act

Gallup reports that President Obama’s job approval has increased to 48 percent, the highest since August, 2013. This matches his disapproval rate, being the first time this gap has not been negative since September, 2013. They don’t give firm data to explain this improvement, but note that this partially can be explained by an improvement among Hispanics. They further speculate that the increase might be due to improved views on the economy, as well as people being more generous in their ratings around Christmas.

I wonder if other factors are involved, including his recent successes on foreign policy, the disappearance of the Ebola crisis in the United States which Republicans spread considerable misinformation about prior to the midterm elections, and the success of the Affordable Care Act.

As a sign of how desperate conservatives are to deny the considerable success of Obamacare in both expanding insurance coverage and making it more affordable, they are going further in cherry picking and distorting statements from Jonathan Gruber going back to 2009, with many conservative sites falsely calling him both the architect of Obamacare and its leading spokesman. Strangely, they don’t pay any attention to the far greater statements from him on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. The Tea Party New Network, which is essentially a dishonest propaganda outlet like Fox but more honest about its political position, even defends Sarah Palin for her rants about death panels, and repeats all the other claims greatly distorted by conservatives. Their complaints about Obama’s poorly worded statements about keeping one’s own doctor or insurance are hardly meaningful considering that their policies would greatly increase the likelihood that people would lose their doctor and insurance, while Obamacare (even if unable to guarantee this will never happen in a market-based system) greatly reduces this risk.

Obama’s improvement in the polls could be a consequence of him becoming more aggressive after the midterm elections, no longer being fearful of taking actions which might place Democratic candidates at risk in red states (a foolish plan which backfired when it led to Democrats staying home). I believe that the Democrats would have still lost seats because of the seats which were up for grabs in 2014, but would have done better if they hadn’t run as Republican-lite. On the other hand,  Dan Pfeiffer told Huffington Post that he believes that if Obama had not waited until after the election, his actions would have been overwhelmed by politics.

The big question is whether this is a transient bounce or if this improvement will continue. Either way his approval is certainly far greater than for Congress. The Republican Congress might give Obama an opportunity to gain further public support if the Republicans actually proceed to pass legislation pushing many elements of their agenda which will be unpopular with a majority of American voters.

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IRS Scandal Joins Other Republican-Created Scandals In Being Debunked When Investigated

As I noted at the start of the year, the Obama administration has been remarkably free of scandals–or at least real scandals as opposed to scandals manufactured by Republicans. Investigations of faux scandals ranging from Benghazi to Grubergate all failed to show any truth to right wing accusations and conspiracy theories. Now we find that not even Darrell Issa, despite often engaging in McCarthyist tactics, has been able to find any evidence for the Republican claims of coordination between the White House and the IRS to investigate conservative groups. The New York Times reports:

An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions has failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Despite lacking any evidence to back up the original claims, Issa did attempt to provide some rhetoric to excite conservatives in alleging that conservative groups did receive scrutiny in applying for tax exceptions. What conservatives ignore is that 1) it is the job of the IRS to review tax exemptions by political groups (with far too many probably getting away with unwarranted tax breaks) and that while Issa purposely limited his investigation to scrutiny placed on conservative groups, progressive groups faced an even greater amount of scrutiny by the IRS.

While conducting this investigation, Issa has repeatedly released selective testimony which suggested scrutiny of conservative groups and has refused to release other testimony which doesn’t line up with his claims:

Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who has compared the inquiry about the I.R.S. to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s investigation of suspected communists in the 1950s, was sharply critical of the report.

“It is revealing that the Republicans — yet again — are leaking cherry-picked excerpts of documents to support their preconceived political narrative,” Mr. Cummings said, “without allowing committee members to even see their conclusions or vote on them first.”

The Republican smears against Obama are no longer working out so well with them, and Obama might get the last laugh with his approval now surging to a twenty month high at 48 percent. Just maybe the stronger looking Obama we have seen since the midterm elections, accompanied Democrats who, despite being in the minority are less held back by the conservative members who lost in November, will be a more potent force in fighting the authoritarian right in the upcoming years.

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Americans Generally Satisfied With Healthcare Costs But Those On Medicare Are Happier Than Those With Private Insurance

A Friday afternoon news dump is not always bad news. Gallup released a poll under this headline on Friday: As ACA Takes Effect, Majority OK With Personal Health Costs. Gallup reported, “Nearly six in 10 Americans (57%) say they are satisfied with the total cost they pay for healthcare, on par with other readings over the last five years. So far, there is little indication that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ‘Obamacare,’ has affected the way Americans view their healthcare costs, either positively or negatively.”

Gallup Insurance Satisfaction

Note that the graph above shows very little change over time, with the current numbers very close to when Obama took office. Satisfaction did increase slightly in 2014, presumably because of more people having coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Satisfaction increased by age, essentially correlating with reaching age 65 and having Medicare. The assumption that those who are older are more satisfied because they have Medicare is verified when the results are broken down by type of insurance. Satisfaction with costs  is at 74 percent among those with Medicare or Medicaid, compared to 58 percent with those on private insurance. Note that another recent study did show that overall satisfaction was much closer than this poll on satisfaction with costs. Out of pocket payments for those on Medicare are typically significantly lower than those covered by private insurance, except for those with the most generous employer-paid plans.

Gallup Insurance Satisfaction by Age

Other findings were that people were generally satisfied with the quality of health care but less satisfied with healthcare coverage as a whole in the United States compared to other countries. Gallup concluded:

U.S. adults holding health insurance via a private insurance plan are about as likely to rate their coverage positively (77%) as Americans holding either Medicare or Medicaid (75%), suggesting both groups are about equally happy with their plans. But, as noted earlier, Medicare and Medicaid holders are far more satisfied with the cost of their plan.

As Gallup has found in the past, Americans are far less effusive with their praise for healthcare coverage in the U.S. as a whole. This year is not an exception: Fewer than four in 10 Americans now rate healthcare coverage in the U.S. as excellent or good.

Before passing the ACA, the large majority of Americans who had health insurance were broadly satisfied with their medical care and coverage and their healthcare costs. Thus, a major test of the ACA will be whether it succeeds in expanding affordable healthcare to the previously uninsured while doing “no harm” to the large majority of Americans who are already highly satisfied with their healthcare coverage. So far, the verdict is positive. Gallup finds no decrease in insured Americans’ satisfaction with their healthcare services and their costs. At the same time, the uninsured are as negative as ever, but their numbers have dwindled. Gallup’s annual November updates of these trends will monitor whether this positive outcome persists as implementation of the ACA progresses.

Republicans have backed high deductible plans as a way to restrain health care costs for quite a long time. Now that they got what they want with plans sold on the exchanges (like plans previously sold in the individual market) generally having high deductibles, they have been using this as a line to attack Obamacare. If this is the main objection, rather than cowering in the face of attacks on the ACA, Democrats might be better off taking advantage of this as a reason to push for the type of single payer plan that most liberals supported before Obama compromised and promoted what was previously a Republican health care plan.

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People Not Directly Affected By Obamacare Are Unhappy With It

With the exchanges opening for its second year, Gallup has found that support for the Affordable Care Act remains low at 37 percent. I have to wonder about how those answering are coming to this opinion. After all, there is tremendous evidence as to the success of the Affordable Care Act, and Gallup also found recently that about 70 percent who are actually obtaining coverage through the exchanges are satisfied. This number is comparable with the number who are happy with other forms of coverage such as Medicare and employer-paid health care.

It appears that those who are unhappy with Obamacare aren’t the ones who are most directly affected. Most likely this polling result comes from all the dishonest information being spread by the right wing, with many people who are not directly affected at present expressing dissatisfaction with a law they do not understand.

The Affordable Care Act also receives less support than it might because many of those who stand to benefit in the future don’t realize it. Besides providing affordable coverage for millions who could not obtain coverage in the past, the ACA protects those with coverage from their employer, guaranteeing that they won’t be unable to obtain coverage should they become seriously ill or lose their job. This had been a common cause of bankruptcy in the past, but many people are not going to appreciate this benefit if they are not undergoing such problems.

Another problem for the Affordable Care Act is that it makes it easier for Republicans to blame anything wrong with health care on Obama, even if the Affordable Care Act is not involved. For example, although the ACA provides additional benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, many who receive these benefits do not realize this. On the other hand, they are blaming Obama when their pharmacy plan increases their copays, even though this has nothing to do with Obamacare.

This does not mean that the Affordable Care Act is perfect. It is built on top of a faulty health care system, correcting several of its problems. However the bulk of the old system, with all its problems and inefficiencies, have continued. With Obamacare so unpopular, I am surprised that there is not more effort by supporters of a single payer plan to promote this as the solution to the problems of Obamacare, as opposed to Republican proposals which would resume all the problems we had in the past.

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Final Pre-Election Polls And Predictions

Following up on yesterdays almost final look at the state of the race to control the Senate, the news today is slightly better for Democrats. A Quinnipiac University poll shows Democratic candidate Mark Udall down by two points in Colorado, which is a tremendous improvement from his previous seven point deficit. I figure that if the Democrats are going to pick up some states where they have been trailing, their best shot comes from the more purple states as opposed to the south, where most of the tight races are.

With control of the Senate dependent upon southern states this year, Patrick Egan points out that this is the “most unrepresentative Senate election since World War II.” As a consequence, the results tonight will not reflect the views of the entire nation. Of course should Republicans have a good night they will see this as a mandate for their extremist policies and move further to the right, and if they unexpectedly have a bad night they will see this as meaning they are not conservative enough, and move further to the right.

On election day, Charlie Cook predicts the Republicans will win seven seats (which would give them control of the Senate). This is the safe prediction, consistent with the final polls, but certainly not the only outcome if Democratic voters get out to vote in higher numbers than predicted. There’s a good chance there will be surprises, and at very least some of the states where polls are withing a few points might not be won by the last leader in the polls.   Nate Silver gives the Republicans a 76 percent chance of taking control of the Senate. Larry Sabato predicts that the Republicans will pick up eight seats.

While the Senate has received the bulk of the coverage, Democratic loses there might be balanced by victories in some state government races.

Update: Reflections on the election results. Republicans Beat Something With Nothing Other Than Negativity And Fear

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