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Chris Weigant

Chris Weigant

Posted April 29, 2009 | 07:51 PM (EST)

Digging In To Obama's (And Republicans') Poll Numbers


Barack Obama continues to ride a wave of public support as we approach the magic "100th day" of his presidency. Since I wrote about his 100 days (94 days, actually) last Friday, today I'd like to take a magnifying glass to a recent public opinion poll from ABC and the Washington Post. Because there are some interesting things contained within it which are being lost in all the "100 days" frenzy.

The big number in the ABC/Post poll is Obama's job approval rating, which they pegged at a whopping 69 percent, with 26 percent disapproving. That is almost seven in ten, with only one in four disapproving, and is quite simply astonishing. But to be fair, this number is higher than other reputable polls taken this week, but not by much. CNN had Obama's approval/disapproval at 63/33, Gallup had it at 65/29 (see either RealClearPolitics or Pollster for more polling data).

But aside from the one number everyone pays the most attention to, there are other interesting things in the ABC/Post poll as well. You can read the full poll results (the publicly-available ones, at any rate, as a few questions are marked "held for future release") yourself if interested. It contains more data on various issues not covered in this article (such as the economy, torture, relations with Cuba, and the automakers). But today I'd like to focus specifically on the political aspects of the poll, and what the numbers mean for President Obama and also for the Republican Party.

When broken down into specific issues, a majority of the public approves of Obama's handling of every single issue except immigration (where only 48 percent approved, and 35 percent disapproved) and "the situation involving the big U.S. automakers" (where 41 percent approved, and 53 percent disapproved). Obama scored highest with his handling of the Iraq war, where he got a 71/21 split. Second highest were international affairs, at 67/27.

Another "big news" number is the percent of people who think things in the country "are generally going in the right direction" versus "have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track." The scores of 50 percent for "right track" and 48 percent for "wrong track" don't sound all that impressive, until you compare them to preceding polls. Just before Obama was sworn in, those numbers were 19 percent "right track" and 78 percent "wrong track." Just before the election last year, the "right track" number was an abysmal eight percent, with ninety percent responding "wrong track." Right track numbers haven't topped fifty percent since 2003. That is a stunning turnaround, for only 100 days in office.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress aren't faring so well in the polls. Approval ratings for congressional Democrats are only 45 percent versus 49 percent disapproval, but Republicans are even more dismal at 30 percent approval and 64 percent disapproval. When asked head-to-head with Obama how much confidence people had that they'd make the right decisions for the country's future, Obama got 60 percent in the "great deal" or "good amount" columns, Democrats in Congress got 36 percent, but Republicans only got 21 percent -- down from 29 percent three months ago.

Asked whether Obama is doing a better job as president than people expected, or a worse job, Obama scored 54 percent "better," 18 percent "worse," and 23 percent "as expected." Compare this to Bush's numbers at the same time (39 / 21 / 37), or Clinton's (35 / 28 / 34) to put Obama's numbers in some historical perspective.

Asked about Obama's 100 days, 63 percent said he had accomplished "a great deal" or "a good amount" versus 36 percent who answered "not much" or "little or nothing." While Bush numbers are not provided, Clinton scored almost exactly the opposite -- 37 percent "great deal/good amount" to 63 percent who thought he hadn't accomplished much.

Sixty percent think Obama is keeping most of his major campaign promises, versus 26 percent who didn't think so. And 72 percent have a favorable impression of Obama, while the same 26 percent do not. When presented with a list of attributes Obama has, he scored above 50 percent in all of them. His worst response was for "a good commander-in-chief of the military" (56/34), but every other answer was 60 percent or above. "Shares your values" was at 60/38, "brought needed change to Washington" was at 63/34, "understands the problems of people like you" was at 73/25, "can be trusted in a crisis" was at 73/21, and "is honest and trustworthy" stood at 74/22. Obama's two highest ratings were for "is a strong leader" at 77 percent to 22 percent, meaning that eight percent who did not approve of his job performance still rank him as a "strong leader." But the truly stunning number here is for "willing to listen to different points of view" where 90 percent agreed and only 10 percent disagreed. Even most Republicans and conservatives, in other words, think Obama is open to differing viewpoints.

When given the choice of Obama's views, 33 percent consider him "too liberal," four percent actually think he's "too conservative," but 62 percent think he's "about right."

But the biggest news is towards the end of the poll. When asked about their own political affiliations, the biggest response (as it has been for years) was "independent," at 38 percent. "Democrat" was second, at 35 percent. But "Republican" is down to a scant 21 percent -- down four points from just last month, and the lowest response in over a year.

So while President Obama continues to enjoy extremely high approval from the country at large (which is, depending on your point of view, either solid support or just his "honeymoon" period), Republicans are falling off a numeric cliff. The public has taken a look at their party's ideas -- which, right now, can be summed up as "we're against whatever Obama's for" -- and the public has rendered their verdict.

Further proof comes from how the public sees itself. When given a choice of "liberal," "moderate," or "conservative," 35 percent of the people describe themselves as conservative. This is fourteen points higher than identify with the Republican Party. Meaning the Republicans are losing even solid conservatives -- which is supposed to be "their base."

This all goes to show that what liberals have suspected since Obama took office may in fact be true -- the Republican Party is shrinking. The GOP is lost in the wilderness of trying to figure out who they are. The more they pander to the Limbaugh faction of the party, and the more resistant they become to any new ideas within their own party, the more they are driving away moderates and suburbanites. And it is moderates and suburbanites who usually decide elections (at least on a national scale). With "The Party Of Obstructionism" seemingly their only rallying cry at this point, more and more Americans are rejecting them.

What is more, Republican purists don't even think there is a problem. They increasingly ostracize any voices of insufficient orthodoxy, and their party continues to shrink as they do so. This is due to the fact that most moderates have already left the party, meaning they are down to a hard-right base. Which, in 2010, may cause a lot of very rightwing Republicans to win their primary elections (and delight their base by doing so, while beating the drums of shrillness on social issues like abortion and gays), and then go on to lose in the general election to a Democrat. They'll have very pure Republican candidates which the base approves of, and they will lose elections as a result -- which could cause the party to shrink even more.

Of course, it's really way too early to begin handicapping 2010, but barring a terrorist attack on America or the utter collapse of the economy (in which the last six months would be seen as a picnic by comparison), it is looking like the Republicans have locked themselves in to a position that the country is increasingly rejecting.

Looking at Obama's "first 100 days" is lots of fun for the media, but wouldn't it be ironic if his "first 100 days after the midterm elections" were even more productive, with a huge Democratic majority in the House, and over 60 Senate seats? Presidents usually lose seats in the midterms. But Republicans show absolutely no sign of changing course right now. Meaning that Obama picking up seats in 2010 may actually be the safe bet right now.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com