A lot of conservatives have tried to suggest that President Obama’s approval ratings are sinking as Americans get to know what he’s really about while liberals believe that not only is he popular, but he has a broad mandate to implement his liberal vision for the country. If today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll is any indication, both views are wrong.
Conservatives are wrong bacause Obama’s approval rating still stands at 66 percent; 60 percent approve of the way he’s handling the economy; five times as many people believe the country is heading in the right direction as did last fall (though the number is still low at 42 percent); by a 58 percent to 25 percent margin, Americans still trust Obama more than Republicans to handle the economy; and while high majorities of Americans blame banks, Bush, business, and consumers for the state of the economy, only about a quarter blame Obama.
So, all told, Obama looks to be in good shape for now. However, Democrats shouldn’t get to cocky about their position. The polls also show that on issues such as taxes and spending, the country is much more divided. Asked about his handling of the deficit, only 52 percent of Americans approved of Obama (while independents disapprove by a 50 percent to 45 percent margin).
When asked, “Which of these do you think is more important right now – (increasing federal spending to try to improve the economy, even if it sharply increases the federal budget deficit); or (avoiding a big increase in the federal budget deficit, even if it means not increasing federal spending to try to improve the economy)?” Americans chose increasing spending, but only by a 49 percent to 48 percent margin. This is significant because right now, while we’re in the midst of a deep recession and in full crisis mode, the hunger for government spending is likely at its peak.
Also interesting is that when asked whether Obama is “an old-style, tax-and-spend Democrat” or “a new-style Democrat who will be careful with the public’s money” — only 32 percent say he’s old style, while 62 percent say he’s a new-style Democrat. Anybody who is paying close attention to his actual policies knows that he is a big government liberal, but most Americans aren’t looking at CBO data or examining his proposals in detail. While that allows him to paper things over with rhetoric right now, once we get a few years of actual deficit numbers, most Americans will see his true colors.
Right now, the president is telling people that we live in a dream world in which we can spend all of this money to get ourselves out of the recession, drastically increase spending on health care, education, and energy, without facing consequences. But eventually, the unprecedented level of debt we’re amassing will come back to bite us either in the form of higher taxes or massive inflation, or a combination of both. At that point, deficits will become much more important to Americans, who have a much more restrained view of the role of government than liberals would have us believe.
So, while conservatives are wrong to think Obama’s popularity is declining, liberals are wrong to confuse his current popularity with a popular mandate to drive our debt through the roof while radically remaking the American economy. As I’ve written before, the big question is how many permanent programs (such as government-run health care) Obama can force through before Americans wake up to what’s going on.