2/8: A Successful Presidency for Obama? An Onside Kick isn’t Necessary, But…

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

It’s one down and three to go for President Obama, and no one is suggesting the first year was stellar.  But, President Obama doesn’t need to pull any Super Bowl Coach Sean Payton’s razzle-dazzle just yet… a strategic redirection, though, wouldn’t hurt.

miringoff-caricature-430The latest, national Marist Poll points out the trouble spots for President Obama.  His approval rating continues to lag in the mid-forties.  His efforts to attract Independents and appeal across party lines have come up way short.  A majority of Independents disapprove of his job performance.  Four in five Democrats give him high marks, and a similar proportion of Republicans think he is failing.  Almost half of the electorate reports he has fallen below their expectations.

A 2010 referendum on President Obama has to be far down the Axelrod wish list.  Just slightly more than one-third of the electorate thinks Obama is changing the country for the better.  A majority of voters tell us the 2010 elections are more about sending a message to D.C. pols and less about local issues important to their state or community.  And, who tops the list of Beltway types targeted for unhappy voters?  It’s Congressional Democrats, followed by President Obama, and then Congressional Republicans.  It’s the end of the first quarter.  President Obama has no choice but to reverse direction and bring the GOP into this political scrimmage.

The White House strategy of defining the 2010 elections in terms of Obama vs. GOP policies could still have traction, if the contests revolve around the economy (as they inevitably will).  President Obama frequently references that he inherited the nation’s economic problems, and 62% of registered voters agree with him.

Successful presidents have followed divergent paths on the road to their own re-election.  Take the case of Presidents Clinton and Reagan.  President Clinton suffered on likeability but flourished in terms of the job he was doing on policy.   Although coming up short in the current numbers, this could still end up being the Obama direction.  More likely, President Obama will follow the Reagan roadmap.  Higher likeability scores than job performance ratings.  Currently, President Obama’s favorability rating is running six percentage points better than his approval rating.

This is not to argue that President Obama will score the kind of policy points Clinton did or enjoy the adoration of Reagan.  But, until the public believes he owns the economic problems, his Democratic base erodes, or his likeability ratings fall to where his job approval numbers are, he’s still very much alive in the political ballgame.