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BP oil spill: How will it affect the Obama presidency?

Even if Obama has not received high marks for his handling of the BP oil spill, it remains but one of many elements that voters consider when asked their views of his job performance.

By Staff writer / June 21, 2010

In her nearly empty restaurant, Regina Shipp of Orange Beach, Ala., watches President Obama’s June 15 speech about the oil spill. She has filed more than $30,000 in claims with BP.

Dave Martin/AP

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Washington

Imagine a world in which the massive BP oil spill had never taken place.

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President Obama and his administration would be fighting with all their might to promote job creation amid stubbornly high unemployment. They would have embarked on a public relations blitz to convince Americans that the new health-care reform law is already helping millions, as Republicans try to repeal key elements. And they would be focused like a laser beam on the war in Afghanistan, which has quietly crossed an important threshold: The US now has more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

Oh wait – they're doing all that already, in addition to addressing the biggest environmental disaster in American history.

Attempts to assess the impact of the BP oil spill on Obama's presidency must of necessity factor in everything else that's happening. Even if Obama has not received high marks for his handling of the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe, it remains but one of many elements that voters consider when asked their views of his job performance.

"There is significant concern about the oil spill," says Gary Langer, polling director for ABC News. "But at a time of 9.7 percent unemployment, there is very long-running and significant concern about the economy. And I still think the economy is the [800]-pound gorilla of this presidency."

Perhaps most startling for Obama, amid the stutter-stepping over the two-month-long-and-counting BP mess, is that his job approval ratings have held steady in the high 40s. That's not bad, considering all the bad news, including the fact that the spewing well still has not been capped. BP is the primary villain in this disaster, especially after the release of documents showing that the company took "shortcuts" that may have led to the explosion of its Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20. The Obama administration picks up its share of blame, not least for the lax federal oversight of offshore drilling that was well-known when Obama took office but which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had not fully addressed by the time the spill began.

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