Two more polls, one from Public Policy Polling and one from Pew, reflect many of the same trends we saw in yesterday’s New York Times/CBS and the Wall Street Journal/NBC polls. Moreover, mainstream political reporters are starting to figure out the nub of the issue. Veteran Beltway report Dan Balz writes:
The most serious potential problem is a thread that runs through his entire agenda and poses the fundamental question for the domestic side of his presidency. How much more government will Americans tolerate?
[. . .]
Polls show concern about the size of government and the mushrooming deficits under Obama’s policies. For some time, the polls also have shown public skepticism about the president’s efforts to use federal money to save General Motors. Obama’s effort to include a public health insurance plan as part of the overall health care reform package has become a flash point in that debate.
Those findings represent flashing yellow lights for the administration, which is why the president has moved, symbolically and rhetorically at least, to counter any suggestions that he is a big-government Democrat. His rhetoric has consistently emphasized his commitment to restoring fiscal discipline as quickly as possible. But his efforts have been minimal in comparison to what he’s done to grow government, and there is little he can do in the short run.
Obama has largely relied on two tactics in attempting to clamp down on criticism of his enormous government expansion. However, they are of limited utility. First, as Pete has ably pointed out, Obama has tried to deny what he is doing. Mainstream media reporters don’t usually directly rebut the president when he comes out with his fantastical claims (e.g. he doesn’t want to run a car company, he doesn’t like big government), so he has maintained an aura of reason and moderation. Nevertheless, people can see a reality, which belies the president’s rhetoric — a GM takeover, a huge deficit, etc. So the pretty words are no longer casting a spell over the public.
Second, Obama has been banking on the disorganization of his opposition. As Balz explains:
Obama is lucky to have an opposition party that has so many of its own problems. But that will be of only limited comfort to him in the coming months. The public may disapprove of the Republicans, but they can easily start turning against the president if he doesn’t deliver what he’s promised. Five months after his inauguration, reality is beginning to sink in.
We saw with his ill-fated face-off with Dick Cheney that the president invests too heavily in his own popularity and the unpopularity of his foes, forgetting (or ignoring) that the substance of his opponents’ arguments are well grounded in fact and actually more closely mirror public opinion than his own.
If the president is relying on the notion that he is better liked or more charming than his political foes, he may be in for a rude awakening. Popularity is fleeting — and results and facts matter.