Wednesday, March 04, 2009

NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll shows Obama job approval ratings at an all-time high

Here are some interesting poll numbers from MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - After Barack Obama's first six weeks as president, the American public's attitudes about the two political parties couldn't be more different, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds.

Despite the country's struggling economy and vocal opposition to some of his policies, President Obama's favorability rating is at an all-time high. Two-thirds feel hopeful about his leadership and six in 10 approve of the job he's doing in the White House.

"What is amazing here is how much political capital Obama has spent in the first six weeks," said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. "And against that, he stands at the end of this six weeks with as much or more capital in the bank."

It is not surprising that the American people are giving President Obama such high poll numbers. This economic recession started with the previous Bush administration, and the Obama team has been magnificent in placing the blame for the recession on former President George W. Bush. It is brilliant use of the president's bully pulpit, and the American people are giving President Obama a pass on this recession, as they wait to see the details on the president's domestic policies for getting this country out of the economic malaise.

The poll numbers for the Republican Party, however, are not so bright:

By comparison, the Republican Party — which resisted Obama's recently passed stimulus plan and has criticized the spending in his budget — finds its favorability at an all-time low. It also receives most of the blame for the current partisanship in Washington and trails the Democrats by nearly 30 percentage points on the question of which party could best lead the nation out of recession.

The poll numbers here are really reflecting the partisan bickering that took place during the debate on the economic stimulus package. President Obama attempted to reach a bipartisan compromise on the economic stimulus package, met with Republican congressional leaders, and the Republicans snubbed him over the stimulus vote. That is the drama that is being played out from Washington, and it is the drama that the American people perceive. The president appears composed, confident, and bipartisan, while the Republians are reduced to a partisan, bickering, obstructionist group.

But there is more to the story here. According to the NBC/WSJ poll, 68 percent of Americans give a favorable opinion to the president, including 47 percent rating President Obama as "very positive." In addition, 67 percent say that they are more hopeful about his leadership and 60 percent approve of President Obama's job in the White House. Yet the poll numbers show that Americans are not as confident with President Obama's policies, when compared to his popularity--54 percent say that President Obama has the right policies for the country. With the economic stimulus plan so big and complex, Americans may not fully understand the details of the plan and are a little wary of the plan's success. In fact, 57 percent of Americans support President Obama's economic stimulus plan, while 34 percent oppose it.

As for the direction that the country is heading into, 41 percent feel that the country is heading into the right direction--up from 26 percent in January. Americans are feeling a little more optimistic about President Obama's actions during his first month in the White House. They are supportive of the Obama administration's policies--the stimulus plan, the closing of Gitmo, the withdrawal plan of American troops from Iraq. But there is also a wait-and-see attitude with the public here. The American people are willing to give President Obama a "long leash" over whether his policies will help the country:

These high marks for Obama come at a time when Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the economy. Only seven percent say they're satisfied about the state of the economy, which is an all-time low in the poll. What's more, a whopping 76 percent believe the economy still has a ways to go before it hits rock bottom.

Obama, Hart says, "has done a Herculean job in raising the spirits and mood of the American public against what is an economic tsunami."

According to the poll, part of the reason why Obama's numbers remain high despite these economic concerns is that the public doesn't blame the president for the current state of the economy. Eighty-four percent say this is an economy Obama inherited, and two-thirds of those people think he has at least a year before he's responsible for it.

"That's a long leash," McInturff says. "It normally doesn't last that long. But believe me, that's a good place to start."

Yet McInturff cautions that while these numbers suggest a patient public, "Americans are notoriously impatient people."

This is a key point. I'd say that the American people are willing to give President Obama a year to implement his policies, and to see the results of policies effect on the country. They accept that President Obama inherited an economic recession. They are willing to give some time for President Obama to change the direction of the country. But if change doesn't come to a positive effect, then President Obama's poll numbers will start to drop.

This is where the Republican Party comes in. Right now, the Republicans are polling some very bad numbers:

Just 26 percent view the Republican Party positively, which is an all-time low for the party. That's compared with 49 percent who have a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

In addition, a combined 56 percent say the previous Bush administration deserved "almost all" of the blame or a "major part" of the blame for the partisanship in Washington, and a combined 41 percent say the same of congressional Republicans.

By contrast, only 24 percent say that of congressional Democrats and just 11 percent say that of the Obama administration.

Also, the public overwhelmingly believes the GOP's opposition to Obama's policies and programs is based on politics: 56 percent say they're trying to gain political advantage, versus 30 percent who say they're standing up for their principles.

Finally, Americans don't seem to have confidence in the Republican Party when it comes to the economy. By a 48-20 percent margin, they think the Democratic Party would do a better job of getting the country out of the recession.

Republicans, Hart argues, "have been tone deaf to the results of the 2008 election... They never heard the message. They continue to preach the old-time religion."

McInturff, the GOP pollster, agrees. "These are difficult and problematic numbers."

The Republicans are certainly positioning themselves as an opposition party against everything that the Obama administration is proposing. They certainly want President Obama to fail, and are hoping that if the president's economic policies do not succeed in jump-starting the economy, then Americans will take another look at the Republicans and how they stood for their core principles. The Republicans were decimated in the 2006 midterm elections, and the 2008 presidential elections. They lost control of both Congress and the White House. The in-fighting we're seeing in the GOP between conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh and RNC chairman Michael Steel is really a power struggle for control of the hard-line conservatives--the 26 percent who still view the Republicans as favorably. This is the start of the rebuilding process for the GOP.

But the Republicans do not have much time for their rebuilding process. At this point, they are playing the obstructionist game to appease their hard-line conservative followers. But they are going to need to reach out to the moderates and independents that have voted Barack Obama and the Democrats into power. Reaching out to moderates and independents will mean that the GOP will have to present new ideas and new political policies that represent real change that the American people have voted for. Unfortunately, the Republicans are still presenting the same, stale policies and ideas for the past eight years of the former Bush administration. We probably have a year before Americans start demanding results of President Obama's economic policies. The Republicans have about a year before they will have to shift their attention away from the hard-core conservatives, and start courting the moderate and independent voters for the upcoming 2010 midterm elections. They are going to need to present political solutions to complex economic problems this nation is facing--depending of whether President Obama's policies really do fail to bring the U.S. economy out of the recession. So there is not much time for the GOP here.

Time to wait and see.

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