Obama's Standing with the PublicBy Richard Winchester
What does the latest CNN poll, showing that Barack Obama's approval rating fell eight percentage points in a month and that less than half the public believe he is honest and trustworthy, mean? Less, for now, than some conservatives wish.
Most presidents' approval ratings follow a pattern. When first in office, a president has high levels of public approval. (Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, and, to a lesser extent, Bill Clinton are exceptions, but their approval ratings soared soon after they took office.) Then, as time passes -- save for spikes in public approval immediately after a dramatic event such as 9/11 ("rally events") -- a president's standing with the public ebbs. Most presidents leave office less "popular" than when they entered.
Public opinion researchers call this phenomenon "a coalition of minorities." To illustrate, if "President Smith" makes a policy choice in favor of X, people who strongly favor Not X and become aware of the decision might stop approving of Smith's handling of her/his job. Smith may lose "Johnson" over a decision on regulation, and "Johansson" over a choice dealing with foreign affairs. Let this happen on several issues over time, and this "coalition of minorities" contributes to Smith's declining popularity.
Ronald Reagan, and perhaps Bill Clinton, may be exceptions.
Mr. Reagan retained high levels of public approval throughout most of his presidency, even after scandals like Iran-Contra should have undermined his standing with the public. After eight years in the White House, Reagan left the presidency with one of the highest levels of public approval since Gallup began probing public approval/disapproval of presidents. At 63% approval, Mr. Reagan was more "popular" than when he was first in office (51% approval).
Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) coined the phrase "Teflon president" to describe how criticisms of Reagan's presidency during the 1980s did not attach to him personally. President Reagan, it was said at the time, was just too cheerful and optimistic to be seen by many in anything but a positive vein.
There's an irony here. When he was president, Mr. Reagan's critics claimed he was too detached and inattentive to detail to be an effective chief executive. Could it be that his detachment and seeming indifference to daily politics enabled Reagan to be seen as above it all, and therefore blameless, should something in government go amiss?
At the time, conservatives bridled at the linkage of Reagan and Teflon, but some of them later applied that label to Bill Clinton.
Vexed as he was by scandals throughout, and even before, his presidency, Clinton's retention of high rates of public approval during the Lewinsky scandal was a major puzzle. A good economy -- that's how the mainstream media (MSM) trumpeted it -- kept Clinton's approval ratings high.
As Thomas Lifson noted on June 6, Barack Obama may be another "Teflon president."
During his first term, Obama's public approval levels matched the pattern already described. The first Gallup poll after he was immaculated showed his approval level at 67%. By the end of his first term in office, Obama's approval rating had fallen to 52%; it was 38% in mid-October 2011. (The final Gallup poll before the 2010 mid-term elections, in which Democrats lost heavily, showed 45% approved of Obama's job performance.)
It's Obama's approval rating during his second term on which my tale focuses. The first Gallup poll immediately after his second immaculation found his approval rating at 52%.
Obama's approval rating over the next few months oscillated between 51% and 47%. The latest Gallup poll currently available -- June 13-15 -- shows that 47% approve, 45% disapprove, and 8% don't know. Obama's average approval rating during his second term is 49%.
The range by which Obama's approval rating -- judged by Gallup polls -- has varied this year is very small: plus or minus five percentage points, usually less. This is barely outside "sampling error" -- i.e., the amount of variation in poll results that is usually attributed to the vagaries of drawing a sample from a national population.
The narrow range within which Obama's approval ratings have fluctuated becomes truly amazing considering the plethora of scandals that have plagued his administration throughout his second term. Those scandals are well-known, so I needn't restate them.
Much as the MSM has been loath to publicize these scandals, several reputable polling organizations have polls showing they are taking a toll on confidence and trust in the Obama administration. (Lifson drew attention to some polls, but the really damning ones have come since June 6.)
Unless the latest CNN poll is a harbinger of new trends, very little of the negative consequences -- where public approval is concerned -- that usually afflict a chief executive whose administration is mired in scandal has slopped over on Obama.
Why? Steve McCann opined on June 11 that Obama maintains high approval because of the "Limbaugh Theorem." Rush Limbaugh theorizes that because Obama projects an image of the quintessential "outsider," trying to clean up the "mess" in Washington, he, as McCann puts it, "remains above the fray and is not ... blamed for any" scandals.
Limbaugh's theorem goes a long way toward accounting for Obama's approval ratings, but it's more complicated, as McCann noted. Start with race: a recent poll showed that 95% of African-Americans approve of Obama, 49 percentage points higher than whites who responded to the same poll. Add Hispanics: the same poll reported that 75% of them approve of him. Also lump in liberal Democrats (93% of whom approve), and the bulk of BHO's supporters has been identified.
Don't expect much change, especially among blacks and liberal Democrats. As Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)'s reaction to the PRISM scandal indicates, liberal Democrats will keep drinking the Kool-Aid.
The latest CNN poll indicates that Obama's biggest loss of popularity (since last month) occurred among young people, who are the least politically interested and knowledgeable segment of the populace. Therefore, their political views are likely to be the least consequential and, more important, the most changeable.
Obama's popularity has been "under water" before, and he has -- so far -- recovered. His MSM lackeys will pour oil on troubled waters, a sizable portion of the public will return to worrying more about reality TV than about the scandal du jour, and Obama will continue projecting an image of "the outsider" doing his best to change Washington. (Should all else fail, he will again blame Bush #43 and/or Republicans in Congress.)
In all likelihood, Obama will be president until January 20, 2017. Whether his influence continues thereafter, and whether the damage he and his ilk have already inflicted can be undone, remains to be seen.
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