Substance, Not Style, Is Hurting Obama

The president also has taken a hit in the polls on the health care issue. In March of 2010, Congress narrowly passed on a party-line vote a sweeping reform of the health care system that has been dubbed “ObamaCare.” Some parts of the package like letting students stay on their parents’ health care coverage while still in school or a ban on “pre-existing conditions” were quite popular, polling over 2-1 in public support. Other parts, like taxing some lucrative health care plans or requiring adults to purchase health insurance (the “individual mandate”), were not popular at all. From the beginning of the health care debate, Americans were sharply divided by party: Democrats supported the president’s plan, Republicans hated it, and independents were somewhere in the middle. I happen to support the plan.  But the point is that a highly partisan, highly polarizing plan isn’t likely to win anyone plaudits as a bipartisan “unifier.”

Other factors in the president’s mid-range polls are the high price of gas and the continuing housing crisis.

Since the summer of 2009, President Obama’s job approval rating has reached 60% exactly once: in May of 2009 after the killing of Osama bin Laden was announced.  Since then, his polls have been in the 45% to 55% range with opinions along predictable partisan lines -- not terrible, but not really good either.  A 50% job approval rating is good enough to get an incumbent re-elected as it did for George W. Bush in 2004, but that was an election won by one state (Ohio) in the Electoral College. Unless the president can either raise his job ratings or totally discredit his opponents in the fall, he’ll be facing a tough re-election race.

So, the president has been roughly 20 percentage points less popular for the past three years than he was at the start of his term. Is that because he hobnobs with celebrities in Hollywood or Nantucket during vacations? Or does it have more to do with the fact that 6 million fewer Americans have jobs, people are still losing their houses, and his health care plan is the subject of a Supreme Court case?  Well, you make the call….