For years, it seems, Barack Obama had a golden political glow about him.
Following a knock-out keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, he rode a short stint in the US Senate to the White House just four years later, handily winning re-election four years after that. The African meaning of his first name – “blessed” – seemed apt.
Along the way, and with the help of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, he won what is likely to be seen as his most important piece of legislation: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms, and the tea party movement roiled things further for Obama, whose race and parentage remained an issue for a small but persistent element of “birthers” and those never able to accept a black man as president.
Although he made light of it, the Affordable Care Act became “Obamacare” to those who viewed it as fatally flawed if not the end of western civilization. Feeling their political oats (not to mention the hot breath of potential tea party challengers from the right) Republican lawmakers pushed ever harder on everything from budgets to presidential appointments.
But through it all, Obama’s poll numbers – especially his personal popularity – remained relatively solid.
Now, that political glow has begun to dim.
Whether or not it’s just lame duckism with voters looking for the next new thing, or disappointment at the perception of failed policies and goals unattained – immigration, war in Afghanistan dragging on, Benghazi, Syria’s chemical weapons, NSA spying, certainly the miserable roll-out of the Affordable Care Act – Obama’s numbers have sagged appreciably … even his personal popularity.
In his radio/Internet address Saturday, Obama said the main thing that’s undermined the US economy in recent years is “the constant cycle of manufactured crisis and self-inflicted wounds” – a clear reference to the recent partial government shutdown, which he blames on Republicans.
“I know that what you often hear out of Washington can sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher – a jumble of unfocused noise that’s out of touch with the things you care about,” he said, again mainly a reference to the GOP.
Increasingly, voters see Obama as part of the problem.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out this week has his job approval rating at just 42 percent, with 51 percent disapproval. While most analysts, pollsters, and pundits put most of the blame for the shutdown on Republicans, by a 41-21 percent margin respondents say they have a less favorable impression of President Obama after the shutdown rather than a more favorable one, NBC News reported.
And for the first time in the survey, even Obama’s personal ratings are upside-down, with 41 percent viewing him in a favorable light and 45 percent viewing him negatively, according to NBC.
“Personally and politically, the public’s assessment is two thumbs down,” says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll sees a similar trend in Obama’s popularity.
“There doesn’t appear to be any one overarching reason, policy or political decision to explain the drop in Obama’s popularity,” writes Washington Post columnist Sean Sullivan. “More likely, it’s a combination of time and recent political crises like Syria, NSA surveillance, glitches with the health-care law rollout, as well as the standoff over the budget.”
“Whatever the reason, it’s growing increasingly clear that Obama – for now at least – is no longer Mr. Popularity,” writes Sullivan.
The problem with such numbers is that they raise questions about Obama’s competence, writes Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, in the National Journal.
“Doubts about competence inflict damage, particularly if they are followed by other incidents that reinforce those doubts and by a vigilant opposition party flagging these miscues, as Republicans can be counted on to do here,” writes Cook, referring to problems with Obamacare and revelations of NSA spying on European leaders. “Doubts about competence eat at enthusiasm among your base and alienate the moderates and independents who are really the ones determining whether a president has strong job-approval ratings.”
Can Obama recover?
Second-term presidents usually have one lame-duck year to establish the perception of competence necessary to make that last term a success – something Obama has acknowledged.
That’s just a couple of months from now.