Obama's Poll Panic

For the White House, November has been the cruelest month, with increasing worry among Democrats that a year from now could mean another midterm electoral disaster, similar to the results in 2010 when Republicans picked up over 60 House seats to gain control and netted six Senate seats as well.

Each day produces a new poll with terrible numbers for the president and his policies. The Obama approval level has dipped below 40% in several surveys in recent days, and yesterday hit an all-time low of 37% in a CBS poll -- a survey that in the past has often been better than average for President Obama. Disapproval of the president in the CBS poll reached 57% -- a record 20% negative gap. In one month, the president’s approval score has dropped by 9% in the CBS poll, a collapse mirrored in pretty much every survey where there is  frequent polling.

In mid-October, the Republicans in Congress appeared to have damaged their chances in 2014 and muddied the party brand, with self-inflicted wounds created by very negative public reaction to the government shutdown and debt ceiling fight. President Obama’s approval numbers also suffered a bit from the bitter fight, but between the two parties, the Republicans in Congress were assigned far more blame than congressional Democrats. The generic ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives shifted from a small Democratic lead to a high single-digit margin for the Democrats in that two-week period in October, suggesting that GOP control of the House was in jeopardy. The leads of seven, eight, and nine points for the Democrats in October have now been eliminated, and for the first time since August, the Republicans are leading in the latest generic ballot tests.

The poll shifts are not happenstance, of course. The rollout of the president’s signature first-term “achievement," the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare to pretty much everyone these days), has been a disaster. The Department of Health and Human Services produced a non-functioning website, failing after three and a half years of work to get one ready.  The professionals who have been brought in to oversee a “fix” are now publicly stating that large parts of the site need to be redone or created.  The designation of “incompetence” now hangs heavy over the White House, supposedly a hangout for the best and brightest. Worse, President Obama seems to have been disengaged and unaware of the calamity headed his way, publicly bragging in the days prior to the rollout about how easy the healthcare.gov website would be to navigate once the signup process went live on October 1.

Columnist Mark Steyn described the president’s AWOL behavior this way:

So, if I follow correctly, the smartest president ever is not smart enough to ensure that his website works; he’s not smart enough to inquire of others as to whether his website works; he’s not smart enough to check that his website works before he goes out and tells people what a great website experience they’re in for. But he is smart enough to know that he’s not stupid enough to go around bragging about how well it works if he’d already been informed that it doesn’t work. So he’s smart enough to know that if he’d known what he didn’t know he’d know enough not to let it be known that he knew nothing. The country’s in the very best of hands.

The president’s credibility suffered an even more severe blow when millions of Americans who already had health insurance policies in the individual market  received cancellation notices from their insurer in October and November. That number now exceeds 5 million, and may be double that fairly soon if the administration’s own estimates from 2010 of the number who would be dropped prove to be accurate. President Obama, of course, is on the record dozens of times stating that no one who liked their insurance policy or their doctor would need to change either due to Obamacare.  That was a bald-faced lie, regardless of what the New York Times calls it.

After several mealy-mouthed attempts at damage control, the president has now admitted there is a problem. He threw out a bone at his press conference last week, offering to relax the enforcement of the Affordable Care Act so that the plans he labeled “substandard” and “bad” could continue for another year, if insurance commissioners in the states went along and agreed to reissue what they had cancelled.  In essence, the president was setting up a blame-shifting process, where insurance companies would become the bad guys, rather than the president and his dutiful servants in Congress who backed Obamacare legislation in 2010 and have defended it ever since.