The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that nearly six out of ten voters lack faith that President Obama will make the right decisions for the country. Moreover, two-thirds of voters say they are dissatisfied with or angry about the way the federal government is working.
According to the poll, voters actually have slightly less confidence in congressional Republicans than they do in their Democratic counterparts. However, by a margin of 49-45, those who say they are sure to vote in November say they will vote for the Republican in their congressional district. Any disconnect between these two results can be explained by a third one — “sure voters” favor the end of Democratic rule in the House by a margin of 56-41.
The Democrats, it seems clear, face an uphill battle when it comes to maintaining their majority in the House.
As for Obama, only 43 percent of voters approve of the way he is handling the economy. 54 percent disapprove. The numbers are basically flipped when it comes to Obama the commander-in-chief. Voters approve of his performance in that role by a margin of 55-44.
These numbers aren’t surprising. Bad economic news and signs of economic hardship confront Americans every day. Nothing comparably bad is occurring on the commander-in-chief front, at least not on the surface.
Americans may also believe that Obama is much closer to “as advertised” on commander-in-chief issues than on economic ones. On the former, he can be viewed as centrist, at least if one’s focus is sufficiently narrow. Obama is willing to use American troops against our enemies, and in fact has escalated the war in Afghanistan. At the same time, he doésn’t come across as a “cowboy,” as President Bush was perceived to be.
But Obama may face difficulty in maintaining a “sensible centrist” image in this realm. If he starts pulling out of Afghanistan next year, he may well lose the confidence of the center-right. If he doesn’t, he will probably lose support from the center-left, especially if the war looks like a stalemate. [see UPDATE, below] And, of course, a successful terrorist attack on the U.S. would likely result in a major reassessment of Obama as commander-in-chief.
Even so, the lesson for Obama should be clear — the more his policies are informed by the concerns of both sides in the debate, the more popular they are likely to be. But when it comes to the domestic transformation of the United States, concerns about popularity take a back-seat for this president.
UPDATE: I should have added that Obama has bought his centrist commander-in-chief image at the price of what may well be an incoherent approach to Afghanistan — surge for a year and then begin withdrawing. It is the flawed nature of this approach that will make it difficult for Obama to maintain his “sensible centrist” image. As Michael Gerson points out today, centrism is not the correct posture for winning wars.
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