As we’ve noted here, as President Barack Obama continues to stumble (not having political Congressional on-board numbers to pass healthcare reform as he previously described it plus the foot-in-mouth entry into the African-American professor versus white cop case which led to a beefest yesterday between the three at the White House) his once lofty poll numbers have starting going south — ending up now approximately where they were on election night.
But do the polls tell the whole story? If Obama is not exactly a “Teflon” President is it turning out that he is not a Velcro President but one who is showing signs of being at least a bit...Teflon? Note this tidbit from NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg:
As we mentioned yesterday, one of us attended a focus group of 12 self-described independents that Democratic pollster Peter Hart conducted on Wednesday night in Towson, MD, which is just outside of Baltimore. Seven of these independents voted for Obama last November, four voted for McCain, and one voted for Nader. While almost all of the participants were down on the current state of the nation and other American politicians, many of them — including some who voted for McCain — had positive things to say about Obama or were hopeful about his presidency. Asked about her opinion about Obama after his first six months in office, Marsha, 59, a McCain voter, responded, “Just hopeful… I just see what’s on his plate.” Hart observed afterward, “Don’t get fooled by the [poll] numbers alone. There is something strong there” regarding attitudes about Obama.
This underscores something worth noting. The discussions generated on talk radio, cable, weblogs or in media discussions or analyses may not always indicate the feelings “out there.” They often indicate the feelings of people who have a vested interest (a media outlet, a career, or an emotional tie to a party for which they are actively working) in not just policy but either who wins or keeping controversies alive. It is conceivable that the polls are not telling the whole story in terms of the perceptions (and patience) of independent voters — who, as we note here constantly, are not monolithic group.
They key for Obama is going to be whether he is going to wind up being a boon to the GOP by helping it reconstitute what in November appeared to be a tattered and — and whether conservative Democrats or liberal Democrats wind up so angry or disappointed in him that they stay home in 2010 or 2012.
What this tidbit does underline, however, is that most people who aren’t running around demanding to have a notarized copy of Obama’s birth certificate placed in their hands, or who aren’t fans of ideological media talk show hosts, are willing to give him a chance.
They honeymoon is over but there are no signs of an impending divorce yet. The “yet” is what Obama has to work on in terms of sound policy and better prepared politics (even a head of cabbage could have predicted that his words on a hotbutton issue such as the Gates arrest would have been perfect pounce material for talk show hosts, journalists, partisans and bloggers).
“Hope” can turn to “Nope” pretty quickly — but Obama isn’t in GWB or Jimmy Carter terrority yet.
On election night, some wondered whether Obama would be another FDR or JFK and whether the Democrats had to gotten their act together in terms of party unity and political smarts so that they’d be the majority party for a decade or more. You don’t hear that at the end of July — but, then, the conventional wisdom has a habit of trying to discreetly shove under the rug assertions made with such confidence once before (as we will if this post proves incorrect…).
UPDATE: As a reader notes in comments, this is a focus group — which is not the same as a larger poll. Does this meant he focus group is out of sync with the polls or the polls are missing something? It’s an interesting point — and we won’t know the definitive answer until a few more months down the road. But it could well be that Obama is a politician to whom some voters are more willing to give the benefit of the doubt and, if not that, a little more time. (Polls show erosion in the GOPers and independent voters who previously gave him high marks..)
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.