Barack Obama’s presidency seems to be happening in two alternate dimensions at the same time.
In one dimension, he’s just returned home from delivering a historic eulogy in honor of one of the most admired people of the last century. He finds an American economy where job growth is accelerating, as are enrollments in insurance exchanges set up as a result of his greatest legislative achievement. Syria’s chemical weapons are well on their way to being completely destroyed and a deal with Iran has the potential to prevent a hostile nation from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.
In the other dimension, Obamacare is unraveling as the president is mocked around the globe for desecrating the funeral of Nelson Mandela with both a selfie and a handshake. Like Neville Chamberlain, he’s giving in to a genocidal dictator. Even worse, he only stops playing golf long enough to cancel insurance policies, mostly those of people who have cancer.
Okay, the second dimension is actually Fox News.
And for weeks, as HealthCare.gov became a punchline synonymous with failure and the president’s promises about health reform were dissected, the Fox point of view has dominated the news.
As the media struggled to decide if his current disaster was more like Katrina or the Iraq War, the spoils of holding the Democratic Party together during the government shutdown were erased, if not reversed, by a failure to implement the one great reform that Republicans had branded with his name, in hopes that it would someday crumble and take him down with it.
A series of new polls has some contradictory signs for the president. But there are also indications that the worst may be over. Here are five good signs in some bad news for the president.
Photo: Allison Harger via Flickr
The President’s Approval Rating May Be Bouncing Back
Quinnipiac finds the president with a 38 percent approval rating and 57 percent disapproval, down slightly from 39/54 in mid-November. That finding is nearly identical to NBC/WSJ‘s 39/58, the lowest at which they’ve ever tracked this president except in May 2011, during the height of the debt-limit crisis.
However, the president’s approval is rising from recent lows — according to two other new polls.
Obama’s approval is up 5 percent to 42 percent and his disapproval is down 7 percent to 50 percent in a new poll from The New York Times/CBS News. This rating nearly matches Pew Research’s finding of 45 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval. Both are marked improvements from lows in November.
Gallup’s daily tracking poll shows the president’s numbers rising slightly as well, with his disapproval falling under 50 percent for the first time since October.
Obama And Obamacare Are Still More Popular Than The GOP
The president’s popularity is nowhere near his recent highs after his re-election and the all-time high he saw after winning his first term. But he still towers over the GOP.
Only 26 percent approve of the GOP in the NBC/WSJ poll. Just 19 percent approve of the job House Republicans are doing, compared to 74 percent who disapprove, according to Quinnipiac.
The president is also still more popular than the Affordable Care Act, which has taken a major hit since the health care exchanges rolled out in October. But everything is relative and the law is still much more popular than the GOP.
NYT/CBS News found that 39 percent approve of Obamacare, and 34 percent told NBC/WSJ that the law is a good idea. This isn’t great news but it is a reminder that the law has never been very popular — partly because many Americans want reforms that are more liberal, like single-payer. And that lack of popularity hasn’t changed much from before HealthCare.gov was launched, before the president was re-elected running on the law.
Obamacare Could Work
The reason the Democrats “won” the government shutdown is that the public thought the quest to stop Obamacare was more harmful than Obamacare was. That sentiment seems to have reversed, according to the NBC/WSJ poll. A slight majority said the problems with HealthCare.gov and people losing their health plans bothered them more than the GOP’s repeal obsession.
Only 34 percent approve of the way the president is handling health care reform, Quinnipiac found. But in the only poll that asked respondents who they trust more on health care, President Obama and the Democratic leadership is far more trusted than the GOP.
The number-one reason people were disappointed in the president, according to the NBC/WSJ poll, was “Obamacare isn’t working/raises health care rates/warrants improvement.”
The question is, now that HealthCare.gov is mostly fixed, will that be good enough? Will the millions of Americans who are getting Medicaid and subsidized health care be heard over the small percentage of healthy Americans who earn over 400 percent of the poverty level who may pay more?
If the answer is yes, the comparisons to Katrina and the Iraq War will seem even more insane.
Raising The Minimum Wage Is A Winning Issue
After the government shutdown, Democrats were leading the generic ballot for Congress by more than the estimated 7 percent they’d need to have a chance to win the 17 seats that would put them back in the majority. That lead has been reclaimed by the GOP, despite their abysmal approval ratings. They’re leading Democrats in most polls by about 2 percent.
The parties of presidents in the sixth year of their terms nearly always lose seats. Often, they lose whole houses of Congress.
But when it comes to the 2014 campaign, Democrats have an extremely powerful weapon in their arsenal — the minimum wage.
With 69 percent in favor of increasing it, no demographic group opposes the minimum amount employers can offer adults per hour, according to Quinnipiac. Even two-thirds of “independent” voters, who tend to lean Republican, are for an increase. The worst part for Republicans is that only 43 percent of voters buy their likely argument that raising the wage would kill jobs, compared to 48 percent who say it won’t.
Helping the poorest and often hardest-working Americans earn more only seems to be controversial in one place — Capitol Hill.
This finding ties into an insight from a new Bloomberg News poll based on the views of Pope Francis. A whopping 64 percent of voters said politicans should focus on the problem of income inequality and 56 percent say that “trickle-down” economics should be abandoned.
The president has cited closing the gap between the rich and the poor as the focus of his second term. And voters are right there with him.
The Economy Seems To Be Improving — And Someday People May Even Feel It
In each of the last three months, about 200,000 jobs have been created as the unemployment rate fell to 7 percent.
Despite this decent news, President Obama’s ratings on the economy are still in the dumps. Only 37 percent approve of the job the president is doing on the economy, Quinnipiac found.
The shutdown tanked consumer confidence, which is slowly rising again. Perhaps the Obamacare problems heightened uncertainty, making the improvements in the job market undetectable. Or maybe after years and years of a slow recovery accompanied by a booming stock market that only benefits the richest, people have given up on the president.
However, we may have reached a tipping point on the economy, thanks to the just-announed budget deal, says Time’s Rana Foohar.
If the deal becomes law, we’ll have two years with no manufactured crises plus an alleviation of about a third of the budget cuts from the sequester. Foohar thinks this could give businesses the “certainty” they say they’ve been craving as they’ve stockpiled their record profits.
If that happens as millions of Americans are getting insured, these bad poll numbers will likely be just a bad memory for the president.
AFP Photo/Stan Honda