President Barack Obama and perception about his signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act, are at a critical public opinion juncture, a bipartisan pair of pollsters said Monday.
Basing their opinion on the George Washington Battleground poll they teamed up for, Republican Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake said the data showed Obama is more unpopular than popular for the first time in their research, something linked in part to the rocky rollout of the health care reform measure known as Obamacare.
Goeas, a pollster with the Tarrance Group, said it's a prime opportunity for Republicans to take advantage, but admits they've fumbled the job so far.
"[Obama's] job approval for the first time [is] upside down, 52 percent to 45 percent, which kind of matches the average of all the polls out there in recent weeks," Goeas said to reporters at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "The key question that I walked out of this data looking at is has Barack Obama lost the ability to lead in this country for the rest of his presidency?"
Goeas said historically speaking, second-term presidents struggle to improve their popularity as it slips later in their presidency, hindering their ability to lead.
"There's a good reason for that – they don't have a re-election campaign going on, they don't have the [television campaign advertisements] coming going on, they are not putting back a campaign in contrast to the opposition," he said. "More importantly what we see is that once a president loses the trust of the American people in the second term, they never gain it back. And I think what is going on with health care right now has the potential of Barack Obama losing the trust of the American people."
Republicans so far, though, have muffed their chance to sink the president, Goeas added, thanks to the mission by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to defund the law that resulted in a very unpopular 16-day government shutdown.
"Cruz for awhile put [Republicans] off on the wrong tangent, which was de-funding as opposed to the tangent of what's wrong with Obamacare and driving it home and reminding people of that and we're back to that point now and I feel very positive about it," he said.
But Lake, who runs Lake Research, said there is still time for Democrats to win the messaging war on Obamacare, despite its current unpopularity, bug-riddled website and rash of notices to some people that their insurance plan is either being canceled or subject to increased premiums to meet the federal law's new minimum coverage standards.
"For the life of me I do not understand why we as Democrats are not aggressively blaming that on the insurance companies," she said. "They are a fantastic enemy here. We ought to say the insurance companies are absolutely undermining this, they don't want to have policies that meet the minimum requirement and we're not going to stand for it."
Democrats, Lake said, still have an advantage when it comes to credibility over Republicans on health care, according to the polling data.
"We still have an 8-point advantage on health care and an even bigger advantage among women voters," she said, adding that "80 percent of the health care decision-makers in this country are women."
The poll surveyed 1,000 likely voters across the country between Oct. 27-31 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.