Swing State Pres

Monday, December 9, 2013

November Month in Review: Obama Hits Bottom? (December 9, 2013)

The bottom fell out on the Obama Administration in November.  Or has it?  Many commentators believe the healthcare.gov launch debacle will color Obama’s entire second term, with ever-tumbling approval ratings.  I actually think otherwise, but more on that later.

To be sure, when the Republicans finally got out of their own way – that is, after the end of self-inflicted distraction of the government shutdown – the website disaster was in the hot lights, with predictable consequences to Obama’s approval numbers.  What had been gradual erosion since Election Day accelerated into a free fall, with his approval net rating at a record low -11.9 (reflecting 27 polls in the last month).  Interesting, over the last month the “disapprove” rating held, but the “approves” declined, indicating erosion among Obama’s true supporters, rather than simply disaffected fence-straddlers as before.

Obama Approval Rating
Election Day 2012
5-Sep
5-Oct
8-Nov
8-Dec
  Approve
49.6
45.1
45.3
45.5
39.9
  Disapprove
47.4
49.6
51.5
52.5
51.8
  Net
2.2
-4.5
-6.2
-6.9
-11.9

From a historical perspective, Obama is still far from “disastrous” territory.  Using Gallup data (which goes back the furthest and covers every post-WW II President), Obama’s lowest approval rating at this point was 38% from November 21-23 (it has inched back up to 42% as of November 25 to December 1).  Every post-WW II President had seen a lower number than that, with the exception of Ike (48%) and JFK (56%).  Four Presidents dropped all the way into the 20’s:  George H.W. Bush (29%), Carter (28%), George W. Bush (25%) and Nixon (24%).  Obama is more in the company of Clinton and Ford, who both bottomed out at 37%, and Johnson and Reagan (both at 35%).

I feel reasonably certain that Obama’s second term has not been completely compromised by the website failures.  In fact, with the relatively strong performance of the website since the latest fixes, we are already seeing headlines such as this one…

Consumer Reports on Fixed Healthcare.gov Site: "It's Terrific"

 

There is strong demand for health care among the uninsured, and some state exchanges, that have not experienced any website problems, such as California, are on track with their sign-up estimates.  In these states younger people, badly needed to make the coverage economically viable for insurers, are signing up at strong rates as well.  There is no reason to believe California differs from other states, so we can infer, as initially planned, that millions will indeed sign up nationally by March 31 if the website performance holds up.

Obama got into further trouble in the month with his longstanding claim that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”  I can personally attest to the fallacy of this promise (we liked our coverage, and we indeed had to change it).  But while the claim turned out to be false for about 3% of the population, and the furor from the claim has hurt Obama’s “trust” scores, I foresee little long-term damage.

For now, Obamacare is more unpopular than ever, and a whopping 18.5 percentage points net negative.  But look for this number to begin improving, perhaps as early as next month.

Obamacare
Election Day 2012
5-Sep
5-Oct
8-Nov
8-Dec
  For/Favor
40.0
41.0
39.8
41.6
38.3
  Oppose/Against
50.8
52.0
51.7
49.3
56.8
  Net
-10.8
-11.0
-11.8
-7.6
-18.5


And the congressional “generic ballot” has slipped back into more or less a dead heat, with the Democratic gains in the government shutdown battle completely rolled back in the wake of healthcare.gov mess.

Generic Congressional Ballot
Election Day 2012
5-Sep
5-Oct
8-Nov
8-Dec
  Democrat
46.3
38.4
41.9
45.2
40.7
  Republican
46.0
38.8
38.4
39.5
41.9
  Net
0.3
-0.4
3.4
5.7
-1.1

And yet, the economy continues to recover.  GDP for the 3rd quarter was revised upward to 3.6%, gas prices continued to fall and the stock market continued to rise.  Most importantly, a healthy jobs report was released on Friday, with 204,000 jobs added and the unemployment rate falling to 7.0%, the lowest in the Obama Administration.  All of this contributed to a sharp rise in the Econometer, from 28.3 to 36.7.  While the economy is still in only modest recovery, there is no doubt that the trajectory is upward.

Econometer
Election Day 2012
5-Sep
5-Oct
8-Nov
8-Dec
Econometer
0.0
32.1
34.0
28.3
36.7






  Unemployment Rate
7.9
7.3
7.2
7.3
7.0
  Consumer Confidence
73.1
81.5
79.7
71.2
70.4
  Price of Gas
3.71
3.65
3.59
3.40
3.34
  Dow Jones
      13,330
 15,098
 15,308
 15,395
15,952
  GDP
3.1
2.5
2.5
3.6
3.6

This month also saw a major shift in the Senate that could have consequences well beyond the health care buzz that dominated the news.  The Senate voted to weaken the filibuster provisions to allow 50, not 60 votes, as the standard for bringing Presidential appointees to a vote.  (Supreme Court appointees are exempt from this, as are bills.)  Thus the Democrats successfully called the Republicans’ bluff with their tactic of bringing three nominees in a row to the Senate, each with impeccable credentials.  The Republicans stonewalled all three, leading to the long-discussed change.  Look for more judges to get through (though some hurdles still remain) – including highly conservative ones should the Republicans regain the White House.




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