Presidential Poll Numbers & Reelection

President Obama’s approval ratings have been below 50% for quite some time now. Depending on which poll you believe, his favorability is somewhere between 42-48%. That certainly looks bad for him at this stage of his presidency.

In an interview with Barbara Walters a few days ago, he said he’s not really in that bad of shape; as proof, he cited how poorly both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were doing two years into their presidencies—both lower than he is currently.

He is correct. There are other factors to take into consideration, however. Let’s start with Bill Clinton.

After experimenting with normalizing homosexuality in the military and concocting a healthcare bill that foreshadowed Obama’s, Clinton’s popularity was definitely in the tank. Neither was he helped by the accusations of scandal that began early in his administration. As a result of these unpopular policies and proven congressional misdeeds, Democrats lost control of Congress just two years into Clinton’s first term. There are shades of Obama’s predicament in what Clinton had to negotiate, although Democrats currently still control the Senate, albeit precariously.

What did Clinton do? He refashioned himself into a centrist. No more social experimentation with the nation’s military and no more radical agenda items. He even famously declared in one of his State of the Union addresses that the era of big government was over. Now, I don’t think he really believed that, but it was politically expedient to say so.

Couple that image makeover with a thoroughly beatable Republican candidate in 1996—Bob Dole—and Clinton was able to win a second term. The scandals continued, of course, and he suffered an impeachment trial, but the public was fat and happy with the economy, the foundations of which he inherited from Ronald Reagan.

What of Reagan’s unpopularity two years after his inauguration? There are distinct differences.

  • First, since Reagan didn’t believe in government pump-priming to create an artificial prosperity, he didn’t push for a huge stimulus bill. He chose the long view of things rather than a quick fix.
  • He successfully shepherded tax cuts through a Congress where the Democrats continued to control the House, showing his ability to work with the other side and win key Democrats over to his policies.
  • His budget, with tax cuts as part of it, didn’t even begin until October of his first year. Consequently, it would take a while for them to go into effect and spread through the economy.
  • The public may not have liked waiting [the source of popular discontent] but they at least saw a viable plan being put into operation. They could wait for results. With Obama, results were promised immediately, only to fall flat.
  • The last two years of Reagan’s first term saw a distinct rise in the economy that showed the wisdom of his approach. He won reelection on the heels of an America that was on its way back to prosperity after the nightmare of the Nixon-Ford-Carter years.

Why does all this matter? I don’t think Obama has it in him to emulate Clinton. He’s an ideologue who genuinely believes in his “solutions,” false as they are. He will not bend. The consensus from economists is that we can expect high unemployment through the next two years. If the economy hasn’t shown any serious life by then, he will be in far deeper trouble than Clinton had to face in 1996.

Neither is he a Reagan. Again, his ideology blinds him to real solutions. Even as things get worse, he paints a rosy picture. Anyone remember “Recovery Summer”? Maybe you just missed it; you weren’t paying attention. Right.

Reagan not only cut taxes but he also directed his administration to reduce federal regulations. Obama’s vision is the polar opposite. Reagan saw a recovery that lasted throughout his final six years in office. That’s not going to happen in our day without a significant shift in policy. Republicans can’t make that happen by having the majority in the House only. Even if they controlled the Senate, it would not be by a large enough margin to override presidential vetoes of bills they pass.

In other words, unless Obama changes drastically, don’t expect any uptick in America’s economy. Unless he deals correctly with the mounting debt [i.e., spending cuts], things will only get worse. If we go into hyperinflation, which many economists predict, expect a voting public that’s even more upset with the state of affairs than in 2010.

If all this occurs as predicted, expect Obama to be a one-term president.