It’s not surprising that the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that both the economy and the oil spill in the Gulf Coast are taking their toll on President Obama and his administration’s approval ratings. Americans’ patience is clearly beginning to wear thin, as the country remains very much in the middle of digging itself out from several crises. Both the economy and the oil spill involve complex and somewhat unpredictable and un-controllable factors that just do not lend themselves to quick-fix solutions. The leaking pipe in the Gulf is almost a metaphor for our frustration, it runs counter to America’s image as a can-do nation, as we remain so vulnerable to an oil spill and a jobless recovery.
At a time like this, a poll with so much bad news can usually be dismissed as representing a snapshot of public opinion. However, what should be of real concern to the president’s advisors is that these numbers suggest a negative trend has been developing over time, and could be taking root. The deeper that gets, the harder it is for the president to ask for patience, and the harder it becomes to turn that trend around. Beyond decreases in job performance approval, and right-track/wrong-track; there is a consistent decline in both the number of people who express confidence in the president’s ability to handle a crisis, as well as those who see him as a strong, decisive leader.
According to the poll, 44 percent give him high marks for being a decisive leader as compared to 57 percent in July of 2009, and 49 percent see him as a strong leader as compared to 61 percent, also in July 2009. It’s also disconcerting to see that while the president continues to show relatively high marks in his likability and ability to understand average people, at 64 percent and 51 percent respectively, those numbers also showed a decline from 2009 to 2010. While the poll also suggests a majority of people still blame Bush policies for the current state of the economy, there is clearly a growing disconnect with President Obama that is troubling. Compassion and likability are critically important. The president and his administration are in the position of having to ask Americans to give policies and strategies time to work, and trust that things will get better, at a time when Americans’ confidence in corporations, establishment and government is at historic lows.
WATCH NBC NIGHTLY NEWS COVERAGE OF THE POLL:
These numbers also come at a time when we know images of spewing oil will continue to dominate the news for some time, unemployment numbers will remain high, and heavy casualties are expected as the Afghanistan strategy moves into its next phase. In other words, there is not a lot of good news on the horizon. Ironically, the change in command this week with General Petraeus now taking over in Afghanistan, could buy the president some time and good will. Petraeus has strong bi-partisan support and is seen as someone who can turn things around.
There are a couple of things Democrats need to do this summer. While calls for patience and making the “it could have been worse” case are less than ideal strategies heading into the midterm elections, it’s time for Democrats and the administration to get off defense on the economy and push back much harder on GOP obstruction and refusal to put ideas on the table. While it’s easy to attack Democrats for what they have done, most voters agree that we had to do something, as doing nothing was simply not an option.
Additionally, Democrats need to more aggressively remind voters that we got into this mess over the course of eight years, during which time most of the republicans now having a convenient election year conversion to fiscal discipline, actually voted against policies that support the middle class, voting time and again for the very reckless fiscal policies that got us into this mess.
The president’s tour this summer highlighting job creation and the positive impact of the Recovery Act also presents a very concrete opportunity not only tell, but most importantly — show — successes and movement in the right direction in communities all across the country. As part of that story, it is important to remind people that when the act was passed, the administration said that we would see an uptick in job creation funded by the Recovery Act in the summer of 2010 – which exemplifies some much-needed credibility as Democrats ask Americans to have faith in their agenda in the years ahead.