A new New York Times/CBS News poll brings two bits of bad news for President Barack Obama — and two silver cloud lining bits of good news.
The bad news is that public support for his handling of Afghanistan and health care is declining and his recent media and speech efforts seem to have done little to reverse perceptions. The good news: he still has strong personal numbers — and the Republicans are viewed even more negatively:
Taken together, the poll reflects the crosscurrents buffeting the president on every major issue. Americans still trust Mr. Obama and seem willing to follow him, particularly in contrast to Republicans. But he is not quite the commanding figure he was in the spring, and his policies do not enjoy the support they once did.
Here are some of the details:
President Obama is confronting declining support for his handling of the war in Afghanistan and an electorate confused and anxious about a health care overhaul as he prepares for pivotal battles over both issues, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
But Mr. Obama is going into the fall having retained considerable political strength. At 56 percent, his approval rating is down from earlier in the year but still reasonably strong at this point compared with recent presidents.
More Americans are starting to credit his stimulus package with having helped to revive the economy. And Mr. Obama retains a decided advantage with the American public over Republicans on prominent issues, starting with health care.
The Times notes that Obama’s campaign to whip up support has “appears to have done little to allay concerns. ” Many respondents said they remain confused over what Obama wants to do and what he is seeking to accomplish.
But the GOP has a problem, too: it is not being perceived as having an alternative solution:
But the poll suggests that Mr. Obama is in a decidedly more commanding position than Republicans on this issue as Congressional negotiations move into final stages. Most Americans trust Mr. Obama more than Republicans to make the right decisions on the issue; 76 percent said Republicans had not even laid out a clear health care plan.
Republicans are also coming across as being the ones who are nixing authentic bipartisan cooperation:
And by a lopsided margin, respondents said that Mr. Obama and not Republicans had made an effort to cross party lines and strike a deal that has the support of both parties. Two-thirds of respondents said they wanted Congress to come up with a bill supported by both sides.
On Afghanistan, the poll finds a “slip” in confident about how Obama has handled it. There is “tepid support” for mainting troop support and increasing it.
A majority of Americans do not want troops there for more than two years.
But the significance of this can’t be underplayed given the context: the Democrats are finding that they are having problems with fundraising, the Washington Post reports:
Democratic political committees have seen a decline in their fundraising fortunes this year, a result of complacency among their rank-and-file donors and a de facto boycott by many of their wealthiest givers, who have been put off by the party’s harsh rhetoric about big business.
The trend is a marked reversal from recent history, in which Democrats have erased the GOP’s long-standing fundraising advantage. In the first six months of 2009, Democratic campaign committees’ receipts have dropped compared with the same period two years earlier.
The vast majority of those declines were accounted for by the absence of large donors who, strategists say, have shut their checkbooks in part because Democrats have heightened their attacks on the conduct of major financial firms and set their sights on rewriting the laws that regulate their behavior.
As the battle over President Obama’s effort to overhaul the health-care system reached a fever pitch this summer, the three national Republican committees combined to bring in $1.7 million more than their Democratic counterparts in August. The pair of Democratic committees tasked with raising money for House and Senate candidates — and doing so at a time when the party holds its strongest position on Capitol Hill in a generation — have watched their receipts plummet by a combined 20 percent with little more than a year to go before the November 2010 midterm elections.
The implications as the Post notes, are huge for the Demmies:
Large-scale defeats in the midterms could be a crippling blow to the ambitious agenda mapped out by Obama’s top advisers, particularly if they happen in the Senate, where Democrats caucus with a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority. The party will have to work furiously to defend at least six Senate seats and as many as 40 in the House, including many snatched from Republicans.
And it seems as if Democrats are falling into an old pattern: once in power they have tended to either fall into disunity (divide and lose rule) — or become complacent that now that they have power they don’t have to be energetic or smart enough to maintain it:
Democrats said a struggling economy is only partly to blame for the poor fundraising performance and acknowledged a more perilous problem: satisfaction among activists that the party now holds the White House, 60 votes in the Senate and 60 percent of the House.
“There was a little sense of complacency that set in despite our best efforts to warn people,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We made it very clear: Beware.”
“Beware” won’t make a good campaign slogan in 2010 — particularly as polls continue to diminish Obama’s clout, even as his personal popularity remains high.
The GOP will look these numbers and increasingly feel it has little to fear from Obama or the Democrats: Obama because his numbers are down, and Democrats because once in power they don’t know how to or work hard enough to keep it.
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.