Now For the Hard Part
We've all been interested in the relatively high approval ratings President Obama has maintained during his first few months in office, which seem to have resulted from a combination of actual approval of his policies, appreciation of his leadership style, and the mistrust earned by Republican critics, this last factor deepened by Republican extremism. Another measurement of public sentiment, a rising "right track" number, is a bit harder to analyze, since it probably reflects optimism about the future more than approbation of current conditions.
The big question, of course, is whether that optimism is based on expectations of immediate improvements in the economic situation, and if so, how much progress the Obama administration needs to show, and how quickly.
John Judis of TNR has an interesting analysis of these dynamics out today, leading to a prediction that the President's approval ratings are likely to drop significantly in the autumn unless the "green shoots" of economic revival grow faster than appears probable at present.
I personally think his prediction is debatable, precisely because it's unclear how much patience with Obama's agenda is harbored by those independents (and even a significant minority of Republicans) in the population who spell the difference between high and middling approval ratings. It's also unclear how much fresh controversy will be generated by the budget fight, and particularly the health care and climate change debates, where Obama's opponents don't seem to have obtained much political traction so far.
Having said that, the point made by Judis that should cause the most concern to Democrats involves Congress more than the public at large:
Obama's real test of leadership may not turn out to have been his first 100 days, but those 100 or 200 days that begin sometime late next fall. If unemployment is still rising, will he still be able to convince Congress, which will have become grey-haired over growing deficits, to pass another equally large stimulus program? If the bank bailout doesn't merely get a "C," but fails, will he be able to resist pressure from the American Bankers Association and take the next step of nationalizing failing banks?
The general consensus of economists that a second stimulus bill may prove necessary, and the certainty that some action other than additional subsidies would be the next step to deal with the financial crisis, both create large dilemmas for the administration if economic conditions don't begin to improve. As Judis concludes: "One can only wait and hope."