As President Barack Obama campaigns in Massachusetts to try and help Democrats keep a Senate seat that could either make or break health care reform — and possibly his entire remaining agenda — a new Washington Post/ABC News poll underscores his present predicament: he’s going to Massachusetts to use some of what pundits call his “political capital” but his problem is that his political capital has greatly shrunk.
A year into his presidency, President Obama faces a polarized nation and souring public assessments of his efforts to change Washington, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Nearly half of all Americans say Obama is not delivering on his major campaign promises, and a narrow majority have just some or no confidence that he will make the right decisions for the country’s future.
Most likely the belief that he is not delivering not only comes from Republicans. Many liberal/progressive (pick the term that fits your bias) Democrats are increasingly disappointed at Obama for not completely embracing their agenda, not confronting Republicans more fiercely, seeking compromise with GOP moderates, and for following some policies that provide continuity with Bush administration policies. It was predicted before Obama took the oath that he might have problems with his party’s own progressive wing and he most assuredly has…along with the predictable problems with GOP conservatives.
More than a third see the president as falling short of their expectations, about double the proportion saying so at the 100-day mark of Obama’s presidency in April. At the time, 63 percent said the president had accomplished a “great deal” or a “good amount.” Now, the portion saying so has dropped to 47 percent.
Republicans are particularly critical of Obama’s efforts in general and on big domestic and foreign issues. Just 20 percent of Republicans approve of his overall job performance, compared with 87 percent of Democrats. That partisan gap is bigger than any that Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan ever faced among the general public. It’s about on par with divergent ratings of George W. Bush across his second term.
Meanwhile, the poll indicates that one factor that helps Obama is the existing face of his partisan opposition — which isn’t an inviting face to many Americans.
But Obama continues to benefit from GOP weak points. Three-quarters of all adults lack confidence in the Republicans in Congress to make good decisions for the future, and when it comes to assigning blame for the nation’s economic woes, about twice as many fault the George W. Bush administration as do Obama’s.
And the poll finds some differences in perceptions about Obama when it comes to race:
There is a growing racial divide in public assessments of Obama. African Americans overwhelmingly approve of the job he is doing, just as they did in April. There has also been little change in the numbers saying he has accomplished a lot so far. But among whites, a sense that Obama has achieved at least a good amount and his approval rating have both dropped nearly 20 points.
The bottom line: unless there is an event or devolopment that reverses the trend, Obama’s clout is decreasing and his image is deteriorating.
Not a good sign for a President now on the hustings to use his political capital to help a Democratic candidate that many experts now believe is seriously on the political ropes.
Don’t be surprised if President Obama campaigns in Boston today as if his entire agenda is at stake.
Because it may be.
An upset win by Republican Scott Brown in a special election Tuesday would give the GOP 41 votes in the U.S. Senate. That’s enough to filibuster any Democratic initiative, and that includes pending health care legislation.
Brown is reportedly ahead in the race. Some Democrats and bloggers have suggested that if Brown wins, the Demmies can stall seating him and vote to pass health care reform. Some have suggested the Democrats can use the reconciliation process. Most likely the outcome would be as Rep. Barney Frank frankly said: health care reform — and arguably the moment Obama had to be a transformational President — will be definitely dead.
Bill Clinton’s term and political clout were never the same after his attempt at health care reform crashed and burned, and neither will Obama’s. Even worse news for the Democrats: if the Massachusetts seat goes Republican, new and old media analyses about it being a blow to Obama and the Democrats will likely help spur on the downward poll spiral and the Democrats will likely lose even more Congressional seats in 2010 than many thoughtful political experts predict now.
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.