The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s standing with the public likely will continue its recent upward trend following the latest positive economic news, but new data on the country’s polarized politics suggests he will soon bump up against a low ceiling.

The labor market data released by the federal government Friday showed the best three months of job growth since the mid-1990s, an increase in the percentage of Americans who are working and the first signs of wage growth.

That’s the kind of good news that usually sends presidential approval ratings upward.

But political polarization exerts a powerful pull in the other direction: Much like President George W. Bush before him, Obama faces near unanimous disapproval from opposing partisans that is deeply dug in and unlikely to change.

Gallup’s latest analysis of a year’s worth of polling data illustrates the depth of the polarization.

Across his sixth year as president, Obama averaged 79 percent approval from fellow Democrats but only 9 percent from Republicans. In the history of Gallup’s survey, that 70-point partisan gap is unrivaled, except for Bush, whose ratings in year six were identical to Obama’s but with the party labels switched.

Critics of both presidents decried their failure to unify the country, but the fact that two such different politicians could have identical degrees of polarization strongly suggests that the times, not the men, are to blame.

In the past half century, the only years that showed more polarization than Obama’s sixth year were his — and Bush’s — fourth and fifth years.

All of that suggests that Obama’s overall approval rating probably will not rise much above 50 percent for any sustained period. The 64 percent approval that President Bill Clinton averaged in his sixth year, for example, is out of reach for Obama unless some completely unforeseen development causes Republicans to change their view of him.

A sharply polarized electorate is not the worst thing that can happen to a president, however.

The partisan gap for Bush narrowed in the last two years of his tenure. That wasn’t because Democrats began to approve his performance more but because Republicans approved it less.

Obama, by contrast, has been able to keep his party largely united behind him despite perennial tensions between the White House and congressional Democrats.

With strong economic growth, executive actions on immigration and climate change, and policy proposals in his State of the Union speech that address Democratic priorities on a host of other issues, the unity on his side of the aisle likely will continue to grow.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with a group of young undocumented immigrants in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The five immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who meet with the president have received protections from deportation under a program Obama implemented in 2012. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

President Joe Biden

The price of gasoline is not Joe Biden's fault, nor did it break records. Adjusted for inflation, it was higher in 2008 when Republican George W. Bush was president. And that wasn't Bush's fault, either.

We don't have to like today's inflation, but that problem, too, is not Biden's doing. Republicans are nonetheless hot to pin the rap on him. Rising prices, mostly tied to oil, have numerous causes. There would be greater supply of oil and gas, they say, if Biden were more open to approving pipelines and more drilling on public land.

Keep reading... Show less
Youtube Screenshot

Heat deaths in the U.S. peak in July and August, and as that period kicks off, a new report from Public Citizen highlights heat as a major workplace safety issue. With basically every year breaking heat records thanks to climate change, this is only going to get worse without significant action to protect workers from injury and death.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration admits that government data on heat-related injury, illness, and death on the job are “likely vast underestimates.” Those vast underestimates are “about 3,400 workplace heat-related injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work per year from 2011 to 2020” and an average of 40 fatalities a year. Looking deeper, Public Citizen found, “An analysis of more than 11 million workers’ compensation injury reports in California from 2001 through 2018 found that working on days with hotter temperatures likely caused about 20,000 injuries and illnesses per year in that state, alone—an extraordinary 300 times the annual number injuries and illnesses that California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) attributes to heat.”

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}