Posts Tagged ‘ President Obama ’

What do Mitt Romney’s low poll numbers mean?

Mitt Romney currently has a problem. No, not the Republican nomination, he has that locked up. He has a general election problem. Namely, people don’t seem to like him. Romney is currently sitting on a historically unprecedented unfavorability rating. Here is his standing in Pollster’s “poll of polls“:

Romney  is viewed unfavorably by almost half the electorate. In many polls, that number tops 50% and in no recent polls does it drop below 40%. His net fav/unfav rating is minus 9. That does not bode well for Mitt. He appears to be the most unpopular Presidential nominee since 1976. In contrast, President Obama’s fav/unfav rating is a *positive* 7.5%, according to RealClearPolitics, a right-leaning site.

Now, some of Romney’s weakness is due to lingering Gingrich and Santorum supporters having a bad  impression of Romney. Romney’s weakness among conservatives and Republicans will be gone by the fall, especially after he picks a conservative running mate. Obviously, these people will not back Obama over Romney. But crucially, Romney is running very poorly among groups he cannot count on to come around by November.

In a recent ABC News-Washington Post pollRomney’s fav/unfav rating among the electorally crucial bloc of independent voters is 35-52 (that’s a negative rating of minus 17!)  and among moderates its a similar 35-48. That this many independents have already made up their minds (negatively) about Romney is a very bad sign for the Republicans. You can’t win the Presidency if this many independents view you unfavorably. Its just not possible.

Of course, the most relevant poll numbers  right now are President Obama’s job approval ratings. Unlike favorability ratings, which measure how well voters  like you as a person, job approval ratings show how much they approve of your time in office. (Obviously, Mitt Romney doesn’t have approval ratings because his job for the past 5 years has been running for President.) People will tend to focus on the President more than his challenger when they think about who to vote for.

The President’s approval rating is currently 48% approve to 46.5%  disapproving (positive 1.5%). This number will tend to harden as we get closer to the election. It’s not strong enough to guarantee re-election, but its also not weak enough to put him in a real danger zone. There remains a significant bloc of people who remain undecided about the President and who will consider him against his challenger in November. For these people, personal feelings about the candidates are crucial. If they are undecided about the President’s performance, but know that they like him personally and dislike his opponent, then they will swing toward the President in the election.

Romney’s numbers will rebound through the summer as he gains Republican supporters, so conservatives should not worry too  much about his overall favorability numbers right now. What they should worry about are  Romney’s numbers among independents. These numbers are bad and could sink him in November.

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How Republicans have already won on Health Care Reform

The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week (principally) over whether the “individual mandate” in President Obama’s signature health care reform bill is constitutional. This issue is dominating political news coverage this week, just as the issue of the individual mandate has dominated coverage of the Affordable Care Act since Obama signed it into law. This is why Republicans have already won the messaging war on health care reform.

Unfortunately, when most people hear the words “health care reform,” “Obamacare” or “Affordable Care Act” they immediately think of the individual mandate, which (starting in 2014) will put a tax penalty on people who have not signed up for health insurance. It is a tragedy (though not an unpredictable one) that this one small part of the bill has become its best-known feature. The bill does so many good things for people in America, but the continuous media coverage of the court challenges have made sure that the individual mandate is the one thing people associate first with Obamacare. In politics, name association and messaging are everything and the strong popular connection between “health care reform” and “individual mandate” is probably the main reason why health reform remains unpopular.

This is extremely ironic because the individual mandate was originally a conservative idea, advocated by Republicans as an alternative for Pres. Clinton’s proposed health care reforms. Obama didn’t like it when he ran for President, and liberals have never liked it. Conservatives (predictably) turned against it when Democrats included it in their health reform package. And the only reason it made it into the Democrats’ bill was because of a desire to make the bill more appealing to Republicans and centrists. But alas, the mandate is now integral to giving people the good parts included in health reform. I could go on for 10 posts about this but here are some of the good parts:

  • Over 30 million people will be given access to health insurance. Anyone without money to buy insurance will be given a government voucher or will be added to expanded Medicaid rolls.
  • People can no longer be denied coverage because of “pre-existing conditions” or whatever other reasons insurance companies can come up with to deny health coverage.
  • The plan will save tens of thousands of lives every year.
  • The plan will reduce the deficit by over $100 billion in its first 10 years.
  • The plan also starts experiments in payment reforms which could hold the key to bringing down our skyrocketing medical costs.

Imagine if any of these major parts of the bill were what was dominating the news coverage around Obamacare. The individual mandate is a provision that will affect very few people in America but is given out-sized significance. Its too bad, because if people knew the Act contained all these beneficial and popular provisions, our health care debate would be very different. Instead of focusing on the most unpopular part of the Act, we could all be talking about how the US is joining the rest of the world in offering health care to all of its citizens. And that, my friends, is why Republicans have already won the messaging war over Obamacare.

Romney responds to Obama’s Kansas speech

Readers might recall that one of my favorite writers is a man named Jonathan Chait,  who now writes for New York Magazine. Today he made an excellent post on Romney’s rebuttal to Obama’s economic speech in Kansas earlier this week. In that speech, Obama decried the growing wealth inequality in America and called for more of a “fair deal” for the nation’s middle class. Obama also tore down Republicans’ supply-side economics saying that plastering the rich with money only helps, well, the rich. Mitt Romney, Obama’s likely GOP opponent next year, responded with the typical Republican boilerplate of calling anything he doesn’t like “communism,” and “redistribution of wealth.” Chait says:

In a speech today (excerpts of which have already been released by his campaign), Mitt Romney accuses President Obama of trying to create complete economic equality:

“President Obama is replacing our merit-based, opportunity-based society with an entitlement society,” Romney is expected to say. “In an entitlement society, everyone is handed the same rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to others. And the only people to enjoy truly disproportionate rewards are the people who do the redistributing — the government.”

Really? Obama’s plan is for everybody in society to have the same rewards? So, under Obama’s plan, I get to have the same stuff that Mitt Romney has?

This accusation is approximately as accurate as claiming that the Republican party wants to pass laws forbidding poor people from making more money. Yet this absurd claim is so common nobody even thinks to challenge it anymore….

Obviously, not even the most left-wing Democrat proposes anything of the sort. The actual Democratic platform is to impose a slightly more progressive tax code, close to what prevailed under the Clinton administration, and to finance some basic public provisions while doing very little to stop rampant rise in income inequality. The right’s inability to argue against that actual program, continuing instead to pretend that they’re arguing against a world in which nobody can have more money than anybody else, is deeply revealing of its lack of confidence in its own argument.

That last sentence is what  I really liked about Chait’s article. If Obama’s and Democrats’ plans are so bad, then why don’t we ever hear any intelligent discussion about why the rich cannot possibly afford to pay more money in taxes than they do now? Instead we always get an earful about how Democrats want to make the US into a communist utopia. Give me a break.

“We should eliminate waste, fraud and abuse”

You win a prize if you can name the politician who promised to do this when they were elected to office. O wait, as it turns out, every single candidate for every elected office from President to deputy school board member has made a promise to “eliminate waste, fraud and abuse” in the government. From the tone of campaigns, you’d think that Washington (or state capitals) was just full of all this waste, fraud and abuse (WF&A) and that all of our elected representatives are completely unwilling to do anything about it. At least now that we have all these vigilant waste-cutters on the case, surely this problem has been completely solved?  Well, yes and no.

As it turns out, there is very little obvious WF&A around in Washington. Ezra Klein has the rundown of all the WF&A that Obama proposes eliminating in his deficit plan. It doesn’t amount to a whole lot of money, “just” “$160 billion over 10 years, and a big chunk of that ($30 billion or more) would come from cracking down on tax cheats by beefing up the IRS, hardly an uncontroversial thing to do.” That’s because, if there were obvious sources of WF&A in the government, they would have been taken care  of by now.

The claim that someone is going to go to Washington to clean up all the WF&A floating around is mostly chimerical. All the stuff everyone can agree on has  been taken care of already. If a candidate says they’re going into government to clean it up, ask them what exactly they will do and how much that will actually save, then you’ll get a more honest picture of what they’re talking about. You see, everyone has a different idea of what actually constitutes waste or fraud or abuse.

For instance, someone from the religious right would probably say that its a waste to spend money on birth control for low income women. Of course, there are plenty of women’s health advocates who would strongly disagree.

I might argue that there are many wasteful defense projects and that it is a travesty that the Pentagon can’t even be audited because “serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense made its financial statements unauditable.” But there are probably many defense contractors who would disagree and say that military spending doesn’t need to be audited, “trust us.”

There is very little obvious waste, fraud and abuse left in the government. The WF&A that is still there is, in almost all cases, there because it is protected by powerful interest groups. And, in many respects, waste is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s sinkhole for tax dollars is another man’s valuable government service. If it was easy to find and eliminate waste in the government, someone would have done it already.

Obama’s strategy and prospects for re-election

Before continuing with “diversity week” on this blog, I’d like to do something I haven’t done yet and talk directly about President Obama’s prospects for re-election. Currently, his poll numbers are lower than ever, and the Democrats just lost two special elections that may portend bad news for their chances in 2012. The economy is looking like it will grow only slowly for the next year, so unemployment will remain about where it is now.

Since Republicans won the House of Representatives last year, Obama has tried to portray himself as the “responsible adult in the room,” who can mediate Congress’s damaging and unproductive conflicts. The results have been underwhelming. Instead of separating himself from Congress, Obama’s poll numbers have been pulled down along with Congress’s since Republicans almost forced the country to default.

Talking about the deficit, as Republicans wanted to do, meant that talk about jobs and economic revival had to be put on the back-burner. In order to seem reasonable (and because he truly did want a deal to solve the nation’s debt problem), Obama agreed to put Social Security and Medicare on the table for cuts. When Speaker of the House John Boehner refused Obama’s deal on the debt, Obama was just left with egg on his face. He had given miles in the negotiations while Republicans refused to give an inch, making him look like a weak leader and like he was ready to sacrifice Medicare to the GOP. This angered the Democratic base and confused independents, who had previously turned against Republicans in another special election because of their plans to end Medicare as we know it.

Obama’s response has been to sharpen the contrasts between himself and the Republicans. He is going to portray himself as the champion of the middle class and a fighter for jobs. The centerpiece of this effort is the American Jobs Act that he announced last week. The Act is full of traditionally bipartisan policies that independent economists say will create millions of jobs in the next year. These include tax cuts for all working Americans, tax credits for small businesses who hire, and spending on roads, bridges and schools.

According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, it seems that Obama is on very strong ground here. Moving the conversation to the economy is good because people trust him over Republicans to handle the economy 46-37%. They narrowly favor Obama’s entire jobs package 43-35%, but the individual portions of the package have very wide support. For example, his tax cuts, increased funding for roads, schools and bridges, and increased money for states to hire teachers and first responders all receive about two-thirds of Americans’ support.

These proposals are popular and Republicans have supported them in the past, but of course they are not going to support them now  because that would be good for Obama (and incidentally, America). So Obama can paint Republican opposition as hypocritical and as standing in the way of creating jobs.

But wait, Republicans say, Obama wants to pay for this package by “raising taxes”! Ah, yes. Obama wants to lower taxes for all working Americans and pay for it by limiting the tax breaks very rich people can take advantage of. This is also an argument Obama can win. In order to oppose his jobs plan Republicans will argue that the rich deserve tax loopholes more than everyone else deserves a tax break. Obama’s position, that the rich should pay more in tax, is very popular. If this argument comes down to: “do the top 2% deserve a tax break or does everyone deserve a tax break?” then Obama surely wins.

Obama’s strategy is shifting. He has seen his “responsible adult” strategy fail and has also witnessed the power of attacking Republicans on Medicare. It appears he will stop his tendency to make preemptive concessions to Republicans and will propose shrinking the deficit without touching Social Security and Medicare. Republicans’ support for tax cuts for the rich (above all else) can also be used against them.

Imagine Rick “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme” Perry versus Barack “protector of the social safety net” Obama in the next election. Obama certainly is, and he likes what he sees.

Obama pushes Republicans to pass the WHOLE jobs bill

I stated yesterday that I think the Republicans will try to split up and pass only small parts of Obama’s proposal. Doing so will minimize the beneficial economic effects of the American Jobs Act (the jobs bill Obama proposed Sept 8th) and deprive the White House a badly needed win, while making the Republicans look like a reasonable political bloc that is able to compromise. It seems the White House has foreseen this Republican strategy.

Greg Sargent reports that the White House is doubling down on President Obama;s proposal and is pushing Congress to pass the entire American Jobs Act, as is.

In the debt ceiling fight, the White House at first demanded a “clean” extension, only to quickly concede to the GOP demand that it be accompanied by spending cuts. In the days leading up to the construction of the Congressional deficit super-committee, Democrats immediately signaled an openness to negotiate on their core priorities, even as Republicans drew a hard line and said they wouldn’t budge on their principles.

But this time — for now, at least — the usual dynamic seems to be reversed. It’s Republicans who want to be seen signaling a desire to compromise at the outset, while Obama and White House are the one sinsisting they won’t budge — and are even prepared to take their case to the American people to prove it, whether Republicans like it or not.

Its still not likely that this good bill will pass in its entirety. The best strategy for Republicans is still to just sit on their hands and wait for the furor over this jobs bill to pass everyone by. That way the economy continues to get worse and Obama is denied a needed victory. But at least this shows that Obama is aware of the risk posed by splitting up his bill.  If the bill gets split up, the economic benefits are small and Obama is unable to attack Republicans as a “do-nothing” group of partisans. Obama needs to keep his momentum here and keep up the pressure on the GOP for a good, long time.

President Obama’s speech and what happens next

President Obama gave a rousing speech last night in which he called for public investments in our country’s schools, roads and bridges, as well as large tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses. As the President noted, the individual components of the package have typically received bipartisan support. These tax cuts and investments are particularly needed right now as the economy is slumping, teachers are being fired across the country and our infrastructure is crumbling. The President also promises that it will be payed for.

Several economists have given preliminary scores to this $450 billion plan. All think it will help the economy. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s thinks the plan will create almost 2 million jobs. That seems to be the average estimate from economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal. The economists also expect that passing the plan will increase growth by about two percent and bring the unemployment rate down a percentage point or more in the next year. But with Republicans opposed to almost everything the President puts forth, what is the chance that this package will pass through Congress?

First, the political dynamics at work here:

  • An improving economy helps President Obama’s approval rating and makes it more likely he will be re-elected. If the economy improves between now and the election it will be seen as a vindication of his economic leadership.
  • Passing a popular, bipartisan bill also helps President Obama’s brand. He has cast himself as a bridge-builder and as the responsible adult in the room. If he can bring Congress together around a jobs plan, that will help how he is viewed in the public eye.
  • Refusing to consider a jobs plan that is entirely made up of bipartisan proposals (as Obama’s is) probably hurts Congressional Republicans. They are already the most unpopular members of a very unpopular Congress and flat out refusing to consider a bill to put people back to work would hurt their brand even more. It is entirely possible (though unlikely) that voters could throw both Congressional Republicans and President Obama out of office next year, so Republicans must be careful.
  • That being said, Republicans don’t want to do anything that might damage their nominee’s chances of winning next year.

Taking all that into account, what is the most likely course of action for Congress to take? My prediction is that Congressional Republicans will make a show of considering the President’s proposals. They will wait for something to derail the proposals or for the jobs bill to fall out of the news, but their leadership will not come out and dismiss it.

If Obama and Democrats can force the issue and keep up the pressure on the Republicans, I think that they will agree to pass a few limited portions of the bill. This may include some of the payroll tax cuts and some of the tax breaks for small businesses. It is less likely that Republicans will agree to pass the infrastructure-repair, or the proposals aimed at helping teachers and schools. The GOP will complain that they cost too much or that they remind them too much of the stimulus bill, or that they’re too tired to take them up when they have so much else going on, or something of that nature.

Splitting up the bill and only passing some of it, has already been suggested by GOP majority leader Eric Cantor. This option has several advantages for Republicans. By passing some of  the President’s proposals, they can claim that they did indeed work with the President and extended a hand across the aisle. The proposals that they accept will likely be the ones that are most in alignment with their own principles and also the least likely to produce serious job growth over the next year.

By accepting only Obama’s weakest and most conservative proposals, Republicans will hope to get credit for being bipartisan, and rob Obama of his last chance to improve the economy before the election. That helps the Republican brand but also denies the country a chance at economic recovery. Afterall, an economic recovery makes it more likely that Obama will be re-elected.