The list of crises facing the White House today is lengthy and weighty: the Gulf oil spill, high domestic unemployment combined with an unstable economic situation in Europe, a cultural divide on the issue of immigration, attempts to stabilize Iraq and win Afghanistan, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal's explosive comments--and ultimate dismissal--to name just a few. Tomorrow, we are likely to get a very poor jobs report after five consecutive months of job growth. Will the jobs report be seen as the beginning of a double dip recession?
As we enter the summer of 2010, the Administration faces the most substantive macro issue agenda in decades. Bill Clinton was often described by contemporaries and historians as unhappy with the fact that few "big things" happened during his Presidency. We doubt that President Obama will ever make that complaint.
Obama does have a window of opportunity, however, to right this ship before the fall elections. It is, after all, the summer. This is a time when most voters disconnect from the political and policy debates and processes. Plain and simple, the level of information absorption declines dramatically over the next two months and Obama will benefit from this period of low attentiveness. Two things are likely to happen this summer that will help the President:
- The Gulf oil spill coverage has probably reached--pardon the pun--a saturation point. The shock and immediacy of the situation has abated. People are now fully aware of the damage done. The relief wells will be completed in August. If the leak is stopped before Labor Day--and right now that isn't certain--the President will have at least a partial victory. Of course, the spill will remain a political issue in the fall and perhaps 2012, but the worst will have passed for Obama.
- News outlets (both old media and new media) recognize the changing pattern in news consumption and act accordingly. Therefore, there is less focus on politics and public policy and this will help the President as well.
We are not saying that all of the President's problems can be solved in July and August, but this period gives the Administration an opportunity to get some traction on a few issues before the fall campaigns begin in earnest. Voters will tune back in after Labor Day and will reassess the President and his policies at that time.
Current Political Environment
Our sense is that today's jobs numbers are going to trigger some significant media coverage and modest political fallout and cause a drop in the stock market, to boot. While voters are pretty much locked-in with respect to their perceptions of the President, we may see his approval numbers start to move from the mid-40's--where they have been consistently over the last 60 days--into the low 40's. If this happens and is not corrected during the summer, the Democrats will be extremely vulnerable in the fall. The difference between an approval rating in the 46-47% range vs. ratings in the 41-42% range may be the difference between Democrats just losing the House and losing both the House and the Senate.
Perceptions that the country is off on the "wrong track" is at the highest point (62%) of the Obama presidency. Not coincidentally, Obama's approval rating is at its lowest point: 46%.
As we move closer to the fall elections it might make sense to revisit 1994 and compare the key political indices of that time to the current situation. The table below should scare any Democrat reading this post:
The biggest problem for Democrats might be that among energized/interested voters, the gap on the generic congressional ballot is even higher (in the Republican +6 range). The problems for Democrats nationally are extensive and notable:
- Voter interest is higher among GOP leaning and Independent voters than Democrats
- Congressional approval is an historic low
- The President's approval rating among Independents is only 40%
- The "re-elect" numbers are at or near historic lows and there are substantially more Democrats than Republicans in office
- The engaged voters are angry about spending and the stimulus package; this gives the GOP a huge advantage
Now whether the above translates into a thirty or a fifty seat gain for Republicans remains to be seen, but unless Democrats and the President can turn things around a bit this summer, November 2nd will be an unpleasant day.
Thanks to John Zirinsky and Peter Ventimiglia for their thoughts and insights. Follow us on Twitter and read our perspectives and others' on Pollster.com or the Daily Caller.
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