Swing State Pres

Monday, January 13, 2014

December Month in Review: Political Traffic Report: Boehner Changes Lanes, Obamacare Executes Messy U-Turn, Econometer Speeds Up and There is One Giant Traffic Mess in New Jersey (January 13, 2014)

The political landscape during December and into early January was dominated by twin ongoing sagas…the fate of Obamacare and the struggle for control of the Republican Party.  Both may be pivoting, but it is way too early to see their endpoints.  And the “Trafficgate” drama of Chris Christie has thrown a huge monkeywrench into a potential resurgence for the so-called moderate wing of the GOP – with the fate of Christie’s presidential ambitions also with an unclear outcome.

December began with John Boehner’s declaration of war (more or less) on the far right wing of the GOP.  With an eye clearly fixed on the 2014 midterms – and the need to hold those few remaining swing districts -- and the sinking polls of the Tea Party, Boehner used the budget compromise crafted by Democratic Senator Patty Murphy and Republican Reprehensive Paul Ryan as a vehicle to lambaste the Tea Party.  He referred to Tea Party PAC’s as “outside groups” who are “misleading their followers” and have “lost all credibility.”  This long-awaited pushback followed Boehner’s crafty move (in my view) of giving Ted Cruz the keys to the car for the October budget shutdown, which was an unmitigated disaster for the party, thereby weakening Cruz and the Tea Party considerably.

Meanwhile, the fixes to the health.gov website appeared to have worked, and the enrollment numbers trended up sharply in November (we await December figures) to 365,000 for private insurance and 803,000 eligible through Medicaid.  The Obama Administration risked continued confusion with numerous short-term enrollment extensions for January 1 coverage and other changes, in the hope of avoiding “horror stories” in implementation and stimulating further acceleration of enrollment.  Obamacare is in a precarious state now, as some measure of viability  is a requirement for 2014.  Republicans will run against it, and if they win the Senate, would vote to repeal it – and Democrats may find filibustering that outcome to be politically risky, thus leaving it to Obama to veto Congressional wishes.

But while an enrollment of 7 million may be difficult by May 1 – the original goal – a smaller number would certainly work if the mix of old and young is sufficient to make the coverage economically viable for the insurance carriers.

“Viability” is the word of the day…and of course now it is now being used in the context of Chris Christie’s unannounced Presidential candidacy.  He would have been the primary beneficiary of a swinging of the pendulum in a moderate direction, as running uphill against the Tea Party dominated GOP primary machine would be a brutal challenge.  But many have stated that Christie’s biggest challenge is not the primary obstacle course – tough as it would be – but rather surviving three years of intense scrutiny, certain to expose more of his own skeletons and test his brutally hard-edged personality.  “Trafficgate” plays into both, the type of gaffe that reinforces the worst suspicions about Christie…much like Mitt Romney’s “47%” and “$10,000 bet” gaffes reinforced his elitist, out-of-touch imagery.  Christie did a brilliant job of very public mea culpa, but I do not see that as putting the issue to bed, any more than Hillary’s testimony on Benghazi put that one to rest.  I’ll post you on the first “post-Trafficgate” polls to see the extent of the damage.

One person clearly benefits most from the Boehner War and Trafficgate – Jeb Bush.  As a moderate (or what passes for a moderate these days), he benefits from Tea Party pushback.  And Christie is the only other moderate candidate.  So he wins two ways.  Plus, the Republican field may be talented, but compared to Ryan, Rubio, Paul, Cruz, Jindal, Walker, you name it, he looks like the only adult in the room.

OBAMA APPROVAL RATING

As expected, Obama’s approval rating bounced back a little with the absence of negative Obamacare news.  Note the high-level correlation of the two charts below over the last two months.  Obama’s net negative improved by 2 points, from -12 to -10 points, and Obamacare’s net negative improved by 3 points, from -18 to -15 points.  Unfortunately for Obama, as Obamacare goes, so goes his approval rating.


Obama Approval Rating
Election Day 2012
5-Oct
8-Nov
8-Dec
10-Jan
  Approve
49.6
45.3
45.5
39.9
42.6
  Disapprove
47.4
51.5
52.5
51.8
52.6
  Net
2.2
-6.2
-6.9
-11.9
-10.0

Obamacare
Election Day 2012
5-Oct
8-Nov
8-Dec
10-Jan
  For/Favor
40.0
39.8
41.6
38.4
38.2
  Oppose/Against
50.8
51.7
49.3
56.6
53.4
  Net
-10.8
-11.8
-7.6
-18.2
-15.1

And that is frustrating for him because his economic story continues to strengthen.

ECONOMETER

Most Presidents are rewarded over time for “peace” and “prosperity,” but Obama is getting absolutely nothing for ending (more or less) two wars (or at least sharply reducing America’s  military involvement in them) or for improvements in the economy.  His legacy may hinge  on Obamacare remaining the law of the land, and for that to happen, it has to actually work in some measurable way…higher levels of coverage, reduced escalation of health care costs, etc.

But his economic story, as stated, is quite good and, even Republicans would have to admit, it’s getting better all the time.  The Econometer now stands at +50.5 versus where it stood on Election Day 2012, the day of Obama’s re-election.  And, it is well over 100 points better than where it stood on the date of his inauguration in January, 2009 (these figures are indexed to the measure as of Election Day, 2012).  And to some extent this is actually understated because gas prices skidded dramatically for a short time due to the recession in 2008/9, and the unemployment rate would soar to over 10% in the early months of Obama’s first term, which can hardly be blamed on Obama.

And yet he gets no credit for a doubled stock market and consumer confidence rate, a 10-point swing in the GDP (from -6% to +4%) and a 1.2 reduction in the unemployment rate.  Sure Ben Bernanke should get a great deal of credit, and we are still a ways from full employment (generally viewed as 5.5%).  But the economic picture is light year’s better than what he inherited in 2009, and the Administration should be receiving more credit for a steadily proceeding turnaround of epic proportions.  Stare at this chart for a while.


Obama
Obama


Inauguration
Reelection
Today

1/20/09
11/6/2012
1/10/2014
Econometer
-72.5
0.0
50.5
Unemployment Rate
7.8
7.9
6.7
Consumer Confidence
38.0
73.1
78.1
Price of Gas
1.84
3.71
3.37
Dow Jones
 8,554
 13,330
 16,242
GDP
-6.2
3.1
4.1

GENERIC BALLOT

The Democrats shaved a few tenths of a point off the “generic ballot,” leaving things pretty much at a dead heat as we head into a major congressional election year, when the full House and about one-third of the Senate (35 races) are contested.  We will be tracking those races in great detail as the year goes on, so stay tuned…

Generic Congressional Ballot
Election Day 2012
5-Oct
8-Nov
8-Dec
10-Jan
  Democrat
46.3
41.9
45.2
40.7
41.4
  Republican
46.0
38.4
39.5
41.9
41.9
  Net
0.3
3.4
5.7
-1.1
-0.5





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