Obama Juggling Health Reform, Afghanistan, Polls
At The Plumline, Greg Sargent flags a new Pew poll, (conducted 10/28-11/8), indicating "some potentially ominous signs for Dems, finding that anti-incumbent sentiment is running at levels comparable to the worst in two decades." Worse, Sargent adds, "Those planning to back a Republican next year are more enthusiastic than those backing Dems — by double digits."
The outlook for Independent voters is also worrisome, according to the Pew poll overview:
Support for congressional incumbents is particularly low among political independents. Only 42% of independent voters want to see their own representative re-elected and just 25% would like to see most members of Congress re-elected. Both measures are near all-time lows in Pew Research surveys.
Before we go all chicken little over these numbers, consider that they could quickly change when we pass a health care bill, which should give the Obama administration and congressional Democrats a boost in their competence cred. The danger is that the Republicans, smelling Dem blood as a result of recent polls, will harden their opposition. It's not hard to imagine Olympia Snowe, for example, concluding that a few less Democratic senators in '10 would increase her personal bargaining leverage considerably.
Among the more encouraging findings of the Pew poll:
Despite the public’s grim mood, overall opinion of Barack Obama has not soured – his job approval rating of 51% is largely unchanged since July, although his approval rating on Afghanistan has declined....Currently, 47% of registered voters say they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district or lean Democratic, while 42% would vote for the Republican or lean toward the GOP candidate. In August, 45% favored the Democrat in their district and 44% favored the Republican.
But the poll also provides additional cause for concern regarding increasing U.S. troops in Afghanistan:
...40% say the number of troops in Afghanistan should be decreased, 32% say the number should be increased, and 19% favor keeping troop levels as they are now. These numbers are virtually unchanged from January. However, more Republicans now favor increasing the number of troops than did so in January (48% now, 38% then). The proportion of Democrats favoring a troop increase has fallen from 29% to 21% over the same period.
This may account for President Obama's reconsideration of sending in more troops.
With respect to health care reform, the Pew poll indicates Dems face a daunting challenge in winning the confidence of voters:
While support for the health care bills before Congress ticked up slightly from last month, more Americans continue to oppose than support the overall package by a 47% to 38% margin. And strong opposition continues to outweigh strong support buy a 34% to 24% margin.
Currently, 38% support the health care bills in Congress, up slightly from 34% last month. The shift reflects a rebound in support for health care legislation among independents, particularly independents who lean toward the Democratic Party...Overall, 33% of independents favor the health care legislation being discussed in Congress, up from 26% in October. This is driven by a 16-point rebound in support (from 42% to 58%) among the subset of independents who say they lean Democratic. But overall, just over half of independents (51%) remain opposed to health care overhaul.
The study also notes a strong edge in the enthusiasm of opponents of Democratic health reform proposals, as well as deep and wide pessimism about the economy.
Polls are important. But they are almost always tempered by event. Health care reform is very much alive, there are signs that the economy is beginning to recover and victory in Afghanistan may turn on how the Administration refocuses the definition of the mission. Few Presidents have faced as many overwhelming challenges so early into their presidencies. It may be that in a year from now, even most skeptical voters will have to concede, "President Obama inherited an awful mess, but he came out of it OK."