Wednesday, March 31, 2010

President Obama Popular but Policy Suffers in Polls. Why?


What is this dichotomy in the most recent polls? The popularity of Congress sinks to the lowest levels ever recorded while Obama remains in fairly safe territory. The top politician in America has separated himself from the Washington politicians, he's not one of them. A Democrat as president and Congress under the control of Democrats, yet Obama is not considered one of the politicians in the eyes of the public.

Politics being what it is, there is a never ending fascination with the polls and the meaning of polls which I have been just as guilty of as the next person. There may be a difference however. For several decades I have worked with polls, refining polls, adapting them between politics and use by the business community, and figuring out ways the public tricks the pollsters.

All the way back to the days I was involved with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and developed new ways to scientifically measure pockets of poverty in metropolitan areas. Then there was time with the Census Bureau and the development of the computerized census and address coding guide. Even to the initial testing of the technique of measured perception analysis for polling of focus groups or onsite campaign groups. I never tired of trying to reduce the range of probability in polls to the lowest common denominator.

If a poll is done right it can tell an incredible story. Most aren't. If the questions in a poll are truly unbiased and nothing is done to influence answers, meaningful results can be generated. But most don't do that either. Most polls serve a master, the one paying for the poll, and can easily be slanted to get the results desired. This is not to say there are no valid polls. Some pollsters have real, scientific methods they use to accurately collect data. Most don't.

Be that as it may, when many different polls serving many different interests give similar results, like the favorable rating of Congress hitting rock bottom while the favorable rating of the president from the same party (Democrat) as most members of Congress tracks at 43-50% favorable consistently, then there is likely some truth in the obvious conclusion. Simply stated, people like Obama as a person and think Congress stinks.

Now I didn't say just the Democrats in Congress stink, although I suspect Majority Speaker Pelosi may lead the pack in negative ratings, because most people don't distinguish between political parties when they think of the Congress, they just think all the politicians in Washington stink. So bad news for Republicans, if you don't do something to help fix this country now and prove you are not just more of the same old politicians in Washington, then you are going to sink right down to the bottom of the cesspool with your Democrat colleagues in Congress.

I think the recent poll on MSNBC by Gallup, I believe, most recently demonstrated that the Democrat liberals were looking for a way to prove their outrageous claim that the Republicans were to blame for the hatred and threats against members of Congress. They believed a quick poll showing the public did blame those nasty Republicans for the violence and threats would help the Democrats in the fall elections.

But the set up backfired when the public, in the liberal's own poll, showed the public indeed blamed the Democrats (49%) more than the Republicans (43%). In the eyes of the public clearly the Democrats suffered more because the public did not buy the liberal line.

Obama, on the other hand, has enjoyed a rather good favorable rating in spite of the turmoil and the bitter controversy around him. More important, it is in spite of the fact the majority of people don't like his policies. America, all of America and that includes the places outside the Washington beltway, is not liberal. If anything this country is moderate to conservative as a whole.

Right now the public links Obama policy with the left leaning liberal causes. But I'm not quite so sure. We know he is a Harvard guy, and we know that Harvard from the Ivy League has produced 8 US presidents. In all 13 presidents have come from the Ivy League with Yale in second place with 5 presidents. It was time for a change. Yale presidents have been in charge the last 20 years straight, it is time to give someone else a chance.

Harvard will not count against Obama (meaning the arrogant or silver spoon perception of the Ivy League in the public eye), though people are more than a little suspicious of the motives and means of Ivy Leaguers. This just means the Ivy League schools do not like their alumni to look bad and they have quite the extended support system to protect their reputation. We can usually count on a Harvard, Yale or Princeton to straighten out one of their own if the president doesn't get it.

Now Obama may be their best work to date. Not because he broke the historic racial barrier. Not because he came out of nowhere with some mighty powerful help. Not even because it seems the longer he governs the less he seems to espouse a distinct philosophical leaning and the more he seems to be willing to compromise in order to do what he thinks the country needs to do.

His attitude of avoiding controversy and refusing to champion liberal causes may have cost him the support of his active and extensive liberal base but could open the door to achieving success as president. It was a lesson that Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Sr. and Clinton all mastered with great success. The old adage that a great compromiser is the one who, when he can't get what he wants, will take what he can get, is starting to fit Obama and a pleasant change that may be.

Today Obama announced he agreed with Sarah Palin's campaign battle cry, "drill baby drill," and said he would free up much of the waters on the East Coast, and tracts in Alaska and the Gulf for offshore oil drilling. It was a dagger to the heart of liberal environmentalists but music to the ears of moderate Americans who know we can achieve energy independence with our own oil and natural gas among other things.

Of course the policy reversal by Obama left both the liberal Democrats and Republicans sort of dumbfounded. Then the GOP fed us the standard, knee jerk reaction saying it was not good enough. On the other side of the aisle the liberal Democrats must have fumed at the news of their Chosen One agreeing with Sarah Palin but, at least they fumed quietly.

What Obama proposed did not address natural gas and should, but he never said it could not be changed to address what was missing, like natural gas. I mean he does have to keep a few bargaining chips on the table to demonstrate leadership and have a better negotiating position for getting the new energy policy into law. Still, what he proposed was a heck of a lot better than what we have today.

I figure Obama has offered two olive branches to the Republicans, with nuclear expansion and offshore oil drilling, to make up for kicking their butts on health care. Now if the Republicans just realized that Obama is willing to play the game of compromise and worked with the president instead of opposing the president, then Congress might actually accomplish more than health care the first two years and with a lot less whining by Congress.

Unfortunately, that might be asking for a lot. How entrenched is the GOP in the mantra "No" to anything the president may propose? It could be a golden opportunity for the GOP or a huge, lost chance to reverse their fortunes in the fall elections.

Is Obama sincere in wanting to work with the GOP and really willing to compromise, as it looks on the surface? If he reverts to being a partisan mouthpiece again like he has acted on occasion as president, there is little chance of success.

The need for action and reform is here and now. The scope of problems in need of action and reform is mind bending. Darn near everything our government does needs reform, often extensive. Some of our programs, including social programs, are beyond reform and need to be closed down. Long ago they outlived their usefulness.

Only a Democrat president like Obama will ever have the chance to take the needed actions and make the many reforms in the social and liberal areas. The strength of the special interests on the left far surpasses their low level of public support or success as a social experiment. Yet somehow they have stopped the Republicans, even when the GOP controlled Congress, from changing many liberal laws.

I suspect they will go along with Obama's radical move to the middle because they would rather have a friend in the White House than an enemy. If they were to have a flight of conscious and keep supporting their president even if he did not agree with them on everything, Obama could have good success.

Many momentous decisions are just ahead for the politicians in Washington. The public is watching with more than a little curiosity. Quite a few political careers could be on the line. It all depends on who makes the effort to listen to the public, living safely outside the beltway, and knowing that in the end, it is their vote that will determine our future, not the votes of Congress.

And that is the lesson in the polls. People are willing to give Obama a chance. For Pete's sake it is not in the nature of the American public to want their president to fail. It is only in the nature of the politicians and news media, yes those special interests, who need controversy to sell news. [I use that term loosely, "news", for it is about the strangest institution there is to define.]

Helping Obama get new laws and reforms passed that the Republicans agree with is not going to help the Democrats in the fall elections. The public does not see the president in the same dull light as Democrats in Congress. What such new laws do mean, on the other hand, is that this president does not think as a liberal, left-leaning ideologue but will put the good of the country above his own personal views.

It is an interesting new paradigm in politics. When a president can risk or even sacrifice the support of their own base to do what is best for America, it is a rare occasion in politics.


1 comment:

conjo1963 said...

Enjoyed your article...even sounded like you have moved to the middle somewhat. Don't hold your breadth waiting for the GOP to change their tune,,,I don't think their vocabulary could handle a 3 letter word like "Yes"!