Swing State Pres

Monday, June 9, 2014

May Month in Review: No More Leading From Behind (June 9, 2014)

Barack Obama is officially in “legacy” mode.  And that means making bold moves with little regard for short-term political consequences, including the mid-terms.  His GOP critics continue to heap on scorn, and this has been coupled with a heavy dose of dismay from Obama’s own party, but for this president, there clearly is no more “leading from behind.” 

VA scandal?  Fire the responsible Cabinet member.  Congressional inaction on climate change?  Issue an aggressive executive order on CO2 emissions.  Got a POW still in Afghanistan?  Trade some heavy Gitmo assets for him, and don’t bother with required congressional notice.

This was a consequential month, though in what direction remains unclear in the early days of these fresh controversies.  At first it seemed the lead story for the month would be revelations of poor patient care at federal VA hospitals, a disaster that cost General Eric Shinseki his job as Secretary of Veterans Affairs (no matter that Shinseki had actually improved upon the historically terrible track record of predecessors of prior administrations, both Republican and Democratic).

This “scandal” had already eclipsed the big news of Obama’s most muscular use yet of executive authority, his call for a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants under the authority granted him in the provisions of the Clean Air Act of 1971.  Tired of Congressional inaction and fully aware that no November outcome will propel legislative solutions forward, Obama chose an aggressive path to signal the world that the U.S. would become a pacesetter in attacking global warming.  Time will tell if the courts allow his actions to remain the law of the land.

But all of that was overshadowed by the surprise announcement that Obama had authorized a trade of five Gitmo-based Taliban prisoners for PWO Sargeant Bowe Bergdahl, and the firestorm that ensued.  Not only were the five Gitmo POW’s highly-placed “assets” within the Taliban, and  not only did Obama ignore a federal law requiring 30-day Congressional notice of any Gitmo releases, but reports quickly surfaced that Bergdahl was a possible deserter and could be subject to a court-martial investigation.

I know this much:  Democrats are by and large not thrilled with Obama’s “legacy push.”  Incumbents up for re-election in coal states are running from his climate change action, party leaders of all stripes are grumbling about the POW deal, and these along with the VA mess will give the GOP potentially stronger issues than Benghazi to pound on in the coming months.

My sense is that Obama’s approval rating can ride these out with a major blip, though a few points may be shaved and that would certainly hurt midterm prospects for the Democrats if it persisted.  Firing Shinseki and the Bergdahl deal pushed the VA debacle off the media cycle, and my sense is that Obama’s talking points on Bergdahl will carry the court of public opinion among those in the middle.  That is:  1)  we do everything we can to bring our soldiers home, 2)  such trades are common and are not tantamount to “negotiating with terrorists” (as Israel has proven time and again), and 3)  if Bergdahl needs to face any justice, better it be in U.S. courts than in Taliban prisons.  As for Congress, annoying an institution that has a 13% approval rating should not have any political consequences.

For months now Obama has been riding the twin-wins of the 8+ million Obamacare signups and steady improvement in the job market to a modest rise in his approval ratings.  That has continued this month….but we will see if that holds -- that is, whether these new issues have staying power and cause major damage.

OBAMA APPROVAL RATING

There have been 32 polls in the last month, but virtually none reflect the trifecta of the VA mess, the climate change action and the Bergdahl deal.  Obama’s approval rating in May inched up another two points to 46%, and his net negative dropped to -5.  Every point matters in the mid-term equation, because each point represents movement among “the middle” and is also a factor in shoring up the base.  That means money and resources for the ground game come the fall.  An upward approval rating is one of those rising tides that lift all boats.

Obama Approval Rating
Election Day 2012
10-Mar
6-Apr
4-May
8-Jun
  Approve
49.6
44.6
44.2
44.5
45.6
  Disapprove
47.4
51.7
51.9
51.4
50.5
  Net
2.2
-7.0
-7.7
-6.9
-4.9


OBAMACARE RATINGS

There were few new polls this month on Obamacare, an indicator in and of itself of how the issue is losing steam for the fall.  Now that the GOP has a few new cards to play, it is entirely possible that the ACA will receive even less attention.  But for now, at a steady 40% approval level, it is still an albatross for the Democrats.

Obamacare
Election Day 2012
10-Mar
6-Apr
4-May
8-Jun
  For/Favor
40.0
40.0
39.8
41.0
40.1
  Oppose/Against
50.8
55.2
52.0
50.0
51.7
  Net
-10.8
-15.2
-12.2
-9.0
-11.6

ECONOMETER

Meanwhile, the economy continues to show signs of recovery.  Another strong job report (217, 000 new jobs) followed a rise in consumer confidence and a good month for the stock market.  This tear’s spring surge appears to have more lasting power than in prior years and the expectation is for strong GDP growth in the second quarter.  Certainly the very strong auto industry sales numbers last month give rise to that expectation.

Econometer
Election Day 2012
10-Mar
6-Apr
4-May
8-Jun
Econometer
0.0
48.1
53.3
52.5
56.0






  Unemployment Rate
7.9
6.7
6.7
6.3
6.3
  Consumer Confidence
73.1
78.6
83.9
82.3
84.8
  Price of Gas
3.71
3.48
3.62
3.74
3.75
  Dow Jones
 13,330
 16,208
 16,339
 16,339
 16,617
  GDP
3.1
2.6
2.6
0.1
-1.0

CONGRESSIONAL GENERIC BALLOT

The Democrats hold a slim lead in the generic ballot, under a point.

Generic Ballot
Election Day 2012
10-Mar
6-Apr
4-May
8-Jun
  Democrat
46.3
41.0
41.0
38.0
42.2
  Republican
46.0
39.2
39.4
40.0
41.5
  Net
0.3
1.8
1.6
-2.0
0.7

The summer will be a light political period nationally, as the primary season runs its course.  Come Labor Day, the midterm games begin in earnest.


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