Byron York puts President Obama’s declining poll numbers in context by recalling the early days of the George W. Bush administration:
Just look at the last ten polls listed in the RCP average. If you take out the two extremes, the most recent ABC/Washington Post poll, which had Obama at 59 percent approval, and the Rasmussen, which had him at 49 percent, this is the trend in Obama’s job approval rating in the last three weeks:
57 – 56 – 55 – 55 – 54 – 54 – 53 – 53
In July 2001, I wrote an article for National Review on George W. Bush’s job approval ratings, which I said were “wandering listlessly in the low 50 percent range.” Bush pollster Matthew Dowd gave me the full confidence talk, claiming that “Fifty-two or 53 percent is basically [Bush’s] equilibrium point.” But the clear feeling among Republicans at the time was concern that Bush, who had won office by the tiniest margin imaginable, after an extended recount and court battle, was unable to rise above the low 50s in job approval. Now, we have a president who won by a solid margin amid great acclamation, and he’s at nearly the same point.
Back in 2001, I asked a well-connected Democratic strategist what Bush’s low-50s numbers meant for Democrats. The answer I got is outdated in its details but spot-on about what falling poll numbers mean. “The numbers…tell Tom Daschle to push full steam ahead on patients’ bill of rights and make Bush veto it,” the strategist said. “They tell Dick Gephardt to push full steam ahead on a discharge petition and a vote on campaign finance reform and make the president veto it. They tell Democrats to push full steam ahead on the environment.”
Weeks later, September 11 changed the calculation for Bush. But when a president’s job approval numbers are falling, heading toward 50 percent, the message the opposition takes from that is as clear today as it was then: attack, attack, attack.
I admit I’m surprised that Obama’s numbers have fallen as fast as they have. Most Americans obviously don’t share the administration’s “never let a crisis go to waste” philosophy.