In the last couple of months as the Republican presidential candidates began to tear each other to pieces and the economy began an ever so slight recovery, Democrats have begun to get back some of their old 2008 swagger. The bumpy first years of the Obama presidency followed by a landslide loss in the 2010 midterms had taken its toll on the party. A bad economy and a clear lack of presidential leadership during the debt ceiling crisis last year had left Democrats in the dumps. But the spectacle of the GOP contenders and their supporters and super PACs pointing out each other’s shortcomings cheered them up no end. After a long, hard winter of bad news it seemed that spring was bringing them back some of the hope and change mojo that might lead them to victory in 2012.
Unfortunately for them, the Obama mojo isn’t quite as potent as it once was. A New York Times/CBS poll published today confirms what the ABC News/Washington Post poll that came out yesterday told us: Even in the midst of what seemed to be a strong comeback, Obama is in deep trouble. The president’s approval ratings have dropped dramatically in recent weeks with the public disapproving of his job performance by a 47-41-percentage point margin. This is ominous news for a president at any point in his term in office but coming less than eight months away from his attempt to win re-election, it is a portent of possible disaster.
The president can take some solace from the fact that the Times/CBS poll still gives him a slight advantage over his two most likely Republican challengers in a head-to-head matchup. He leads Mitt Romney 47-44 and Rick Santorum 48-44 though as the paper points out, with a three percent margin of error, that makes either possible matchup a toss-up.
What’s the reason for this decline? Clearly, the rise in gas prices is a major factor. The poll shows that a clear majority of respondents think the president has the power to do something about rising prices. That faith in presidential power may be unfounded. Though Obama’s actions to restrain drilling and cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline has certainly been harmful, he is as much a hostage to a fluctuating oil market as was his predecessor. Rising gas prices fed a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the Republicans in 2008. They appear to be playing the same role this year with the Democrats; that only goes to prove that what goes around, comes around.
But gas prices are not the only reason for Obama’s worries. Though foreign policy appears to be one of his stronger points with the public, that edge is clearly declining as concerns about Iran and the chaos in Afghanistan have undermined his pose as an able commander-in-chief. Killing Osama bin Laden was a good thing and something that rightly earned him the plaudits of the public, but by itself it is not going to get Obama re-elected no matter how many times he and his surrogates mention it.
But though, like any president, Obama’s poll ratings are tied to the ebb and flow of events, perhaps there are other factors. In today’s Politico, Josh Gerstein compiles an impressive list of things President Obama has done without drawing too many protests that his predecessor could not have gotten away with. The laundry list includes actions in the war on terror that highlighted the Democrats’ hypocritical criticisms of George W. Bush as well as Obama’s cronyism, his hypocritical stance on campaign finance and his self-indulgence that has led him to play golf frequently, a sport Politico notes that the 43rd president dropped during his time in office.
Though Gerstein portrays Obama as getting off scot free from actions that would create hurricanes of outrage had Bush done any of it, perhaps the sheer volume of Obama’s hypocrisy is starting to leech into his poll ratings. Americans may not be that enthused about the Republicans in 2012, but during the last four years they have gotten to know Barack Obama pretty well. Despite a mainstream media that continues to fawn upon him and to trash his foes, the best the president can do is to merely tread water at a time when he should be soaring in the polls. That’s a sign that once he is faced with a single GOP challenger and a united opposition (something that must be acknowledged as not being a given) he may be in bigger trouble than even his cheerleaders at the Times think.