Obama’s No Good, Horrible Polling Streak

The poll news was flying around the blogosphere on Wednesday as slack-jawed conservatives and nervous liberals picked through the numbers. The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama’s approval rating had dropped to 53 percent, from 61 percent in April. But that wasn’t the worst of it:

Support for President Barack Obama’s health-care effort slipped substantially over the past five weeks — particularly among those who already have insurance — as Congress has struggled to finalize legislation and attention has focused on its high price, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

The kicker: Obama’s health-care poll numbers are about where Bill Clinton’s were when HillaryCare crashed and burned.

The New York Times/CBS poll also chimed in with another survey confirming that more people want to work on deficit control than on spending: “Preference for deficit reduction ahead of spending to boost the economy peaks at 79 percent among Republicans, and also includes 60 percent of independents. It falls below half, to 43 percent, among Democrats.” The New York Times (with its thumb so clearly on the scale) nevertheless concedes that Obama is losing the message war:

President Obama’s ability to shape the debate on health care appears to be eroding as opponents aggressively portray the effort as a government-takeover that could limit Americans’ ability to choose their doctor and course of treatment, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Americans are concerned that overhauling the health care system would reduce the quality of their care, increase their out-of-pocket health costs and tax bills and limit their options in choosing doctors, treatment and tests, the poll found. The percentage who describe health care costs as a serious threat to the American economy — a central argument being made by Mr. Obama — has dropped over the past month

(Imagine, portraying the government takeover of health care as a government takeover of health care!)

Whatever the president has been doing hasn’t worked. Deferring to the liberal House leadership and encouraging it to come up with an unworkable and exorbitant plan while casting all opponents as defenders of the status quo hasn’t worked. Insisting the government will both slash Medicare and protect it, cut health-care costs but not interfere with doctors, and create a public option but not drive us out of our private insurance has been spectacularly unsuccessful, not to mention incoherent.

Does the president have Plan B? Well, restoring his credibility and recapturing the public’s confidence begins by scrapping the House leadership’s bill and starting over. The electorate isn’t interested in a public option or boards of bureaucrats to tell their doctors when their treatment is “unnecessary.” Whether Obama has the nerve and courage to adjust to political realities remains to be seen — and may determine the course of the remainder of his presidency.

UPDATE: And from Pew: “The president’s overall job approval number fell from 61% in mid-June to 54% currently. His approval ratings for handling the economy and the federal budget deficit have also fallen sharply, tumbling to 38% and 32%, respectively. Majorities now say they disapprove of the way the president is handling these two issues. The new poll also finds significant declines over the last few months in the percentage of Americans giving Obama high marks for dealing with health care, foreign policy and tax policy.” By a 41-29% Americans disapprove of his handling of Gates-gate.