Swing State Pres

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

February Month in Review: Not Quite the Foreign Policy Crisis Obama Might Have Secretly Hoped For (March 11, 2014)

President Obama’s second term has not really been a disaster thus far, certainly not by historical standards.  If you need an objective metric, try Gallup’s presidential approval ratings, which Gallup has been tracking since Truman.  Virtually every President who has won reelection has suffered through scandal or incompetence, most notably Nixon, Truman and George W. Bush, who all fell to the low-to-mid 20’s, truly scary territory.  Obama’s nadir of 38% (thus far) is more in line with Reagan (40%) and below those of Ike (49%) and Clinton (53%).

Despite modestly increasing numbers (Gallup’s latest is 45%, the same as the overall average last month among 25 polls), Obama’s second term is largely stuck.  He is being helped along modestly by an ever-improving economy and Obamacare enrollment numbers, and he is helping himself by essentially declaring war on Congress (which has an approval rating of 15%) and by issuing a slew of executive orders.  But truly galvanizing events are hard to manufacture.

At times like these, presidents often look overseas for a new initiative or a juicy conflict as a means of rallying Americans around their leadership.  Perhaps they launch a Mideast peace initiative (Clinton) or look for a humanitarian cause (Bush 43, fighting AIDS in Africa).  But Barack Obama has no luck – his latest foreign crisis involves the intractable Vladimir Putin and his blatant land grab of the Crimea portion of Ukraine (and it is “Ukraine,” not “the Ukraine”).

This is one that will be difficult for Obama to win.  His fantasy roughly runs as follows:  he succeeds in getting the European Union to agree to tough economic sanctions on Russia, a must since Europe does $460 billion in trade with Russia, more than ten times the U.S.  Putin, already feeling the adverse effects of an imploding stock market, turns tail and removes his troops from Crimea and declares “mission accomplished” in protecting those poor Russia-speaking Crimeans who were at such risk.

It ain’t happening, of course.  Putin is living in his own reality (confirmed by no less a source than Angela Merkel) and the notion of him cowering in the face of Western economic pressure is laughable.  Obama will win no points here, and Crimea will likely go the way of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, regions of Georgia that went down the same break-off path in 2008, and are still separate today.

I am a bit amused with Senator John McCain, who concluded that Putin’s actions are the result of “a feckless American foreign policy in which nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”  This comes from a man who ran perhaps the most feckless presidential campaign in modern memory.  McCain’s well known fondness for risk-taking resulted in 2008 strategic gems such as “Let’s Cancel the Debate” (he didn’t), “Let’s Have an Economic Crisis Meeting at the White House” (they did and he barely said a word while Obama basically ran the meeting, causing several Republicans around that table to decide to vote for Obama) and, of course, “Let’s Have a Vice President Who Thinks the Queen Runs England.”  We can only shudder at how President McCain might be handling this crisis – or President Palin.

Texas held its primaries and there were a few notable outcomes.  Republican Senator Max Cornyn easily defeated his Tea Party challenger, Steve Stockman.  And George P. Bush, son of Jeb, nephew of W, also won his bid for Land Commissioner handily.  Those of you who pine for a Bush-Clinton rematch in 2016 might as well start thinking about another one in say, 2036, featuring Chelsea versus George P.  Don’t laugh.

There is a big election in Florida today, for the 13th District, vacated last year due to the death of long-time Republican Representative John Young.  This is a classic swing district, a rare breed, that Barack Obama took by a 50/49 margin over Mitt Romney.  As such, many see this race as a harbinger of the midterms.  Democrat Alex Sink, former Chief Financial Officer of Florida is up against Young’s former aide, Republican David Jolly, with a Libertarian, Lucas Overby in the mix.  There have been seven polls since February 1, and the average shows Sink ahead 44.5% to 42.7%.  I think Sink wins by three, 48/45/7 over Jolly and then Overby.

OBAMA APPROVAL RATING

President Obama’s net approval rating nudged upward a bit more, to a -7.  His approval rating is recovering – up five points in the last four months – but his disapproval rating has been quite constant at the 51-52% level, a full four points higher than Election Day 2012.  If Obama wants to be a possible force in the midterms, the rebound has to put him into a net positive position.

Obama Approval Rating
Election Day 2012
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
10-Mar
  Approve
49.6
39.9
42.6
43.8
44.6
  Disapprove
47.4
51.8
52.6
51.4
51.7
  Net
2.2
-11.9
-10.0
-7.6
-7.0

OBAMACARE RATINGS

The Obamacare ratings actually slipped a bit, although that may be more a function of the mix of polls taken than a true trend.   But regardless, the forward progress since the launch debacle has not sustained even as the enrollment numbers show marked increases, over 3.3 million as of February 1 and due for a surge to the end of March deadline (if the Massachusetts experience is any indication).  I believe the spotlight will return to Obamacare once that deadline approaches, but recently it has been pretty quiet…with the exception of Republican Congressional campaigning, of which Obamacare-bashing is the centerpiece.

Obamacare
Election Day 2012
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
10-Mar
  For/Favor
40.0
38.4
38.2
39.0
40.0
  Oppose/Against
50.8
56.6
53.4
52.1
55.2
  Net
-10.8
-18.2
-15.1
-13.1
-15.2

ECONOMETER

There was little movement in the Econometer, as all measures teetered one way or the other modestly.  Obama has been reluctant to push economy recovery as a centerpiece of his message as long as the unemployment rate has remained on the high side, but if there is another spring thaw that drives that rate closer to 6.0, you can imagine a sharp increase in positive messaging as we near Election Day.

Econometer
Election Day 2012
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
10-Mar
Econometer
0.0
37.2
50.5
50.6
47.9






  Unemployment Rate
7.9
7.0
6.7
6.6
6.7
  Consumer Confidence
73.1
70.4
78.1
80.7
78.6
  Price of Gas
3.71
3.34
3.37
3.38
3.48
  Dow Jones
      13,330
 15,952
 16,242
 15,993
 16,208
  GDP
3.1
4.1
4.1
3.2
2.4

CONGRESSIONAL GENERIC BALLOT

The Democrats have regained the upper hand in the generic ballot, albeit by a rather slim margin.  But the 1.8 point spread is the largest since November, and bodes well as we head into Congressional primary season.

Generic Congressional Ballot
Election Day 2012
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
10-Mar
  Democrat
46.3
40.7
41.4
39.9
41.0
  Republican
46.0
41.9
41.9
40.7
39.2
  Net
0.3
-1.1
-0.5
-0.8
1.8








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