"Brazen Lies About Obama"
"Do Republicans Do Anything But Piss, Moan, Whine, Bitch?"
President Obama remains the most important single person in the midterm election, which is now just a week away. He is not as unpopular as his predecessor was at this point eight years ago, but he is still unpopular, and Democratic candidates are twisting themselves in knots to create distance from him.
Second-terms are seldom happy affairs, and this one has been no exception. The last two years have witnessed revelations about the surveillance state, Vladimir Putin's provocations, and the rise of the Islamic State. The IRS quasi-scandal and the revelations of worrisome gaps at the Secret Service have kept the press office at the White House busy. So has the catastrophic launch of the Obamacare Web site last year and the chaotic response to the Ebola epidemic this year.
Yet, despite what you might read in the news, Obama's unpopularity likely has little to do with these events. After Obama won reelection, his approval ratings were positive. They began declining early in 2013, before any of these crises developed. They continued to erode at a steady rate, regardless of the headlines from week to week, before leveling off at around 40 percent, according to the latest polling from The Washington Post-ABC News. Indeed, the ratings have hardly budged throughout the past 12 months, as Gallup's pollingshows.
Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, described this trend simply as "a regression to the mean," the gradual waning of the public's goodwill toward the president that he'd built up during his campaign for reelection and "the halo that comes with victory." This kind of decline is common for a president following a successful election campaign.
The effects of bad press, as measured by the polls, have always disappeared after a few days. For example, the presidents' ratings were already more or less stable by the time of the launch of healthcare.gov. Some good news about the health care law a few months later, when the administration announced that it had met its enrollment targets, inflated the president's poll numbers for a few weeks, before they declined again to their previous level.
"If you look at the graph, you just see a gradual erosion from the high point," Newport said. By now, he added, most people seem to have made up their minds about Obama, and it would take something really dramatic to make them reconsider.
The Iran-contra scandal swayed public opinion against President Reagan during his second term, as did the Iraq war after Bush's reelection, Newport said. While it's true that second-term presidents often seemincapable of advancing their agendas, that doesn't mean they're always unpopular: A buoyant economy kept President Clinton's ratings high throughout his tenure. Indeed, his approval rating climbed to a whopping 73 percent immediately after his impeachment.
The now lukewarm economy is the probably best explanation for the public's lukewarm views of the president, Newport speculated. The economy is generally among the most important factors in determining how people will vote. While voters are more likely to criticize Obama on a range of issues from immigration to foreign affairs, their views on his handling of the economy are more or less in in line with their views on his presidency in general, according to The Post-ABC poll.
It's impossible to say which forces are most important in determining the president's popularity, but they have apparently reached a kind of equilibrium. Crises and fumbles, real or imagined have not shifted that equilibrium and probably won't in the future, either.