Obama Is High in Polls, But Issues Like Mortgage and Auto Crises Help Republicans

Reading the polls on Obama, alternative energy, mortgage stimulus and auto bailouts.

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By Michael Barone, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Some interesting results from pollster Scott Rasmussen.

On the one hand, job approval of Barack Obama continues to be high: most recently 60 percent approve and 39 percent disapprove. Since his inauguration, his approval numbers has fluttered within a narrow range, from 59 percent to 63 percent, in Rasmussen's daily polling. His disapproval numbers have risen, from 29 percent on January 22 and 23, up to a range of 37 percent-39 percent starting February 7. I think that's to be expected: Republicans were less inclined to express disapproval in the afterglow of the inauguration and, as time went on and partisan differences began to be aired, more inclined to do so later. Obama might have kept those numbers low by a more bipartisan approach on the stimulus package, but sooner or later they were likely to go up.

Long-term implication: We can expect a solid majority of the public to continue to approve of the new president's performance

On the other hand, we see that the public is at odds with Obama and his party on several issues which are in the spotlight now or are likely to be in the months ahead.

Energy

Rasmussen finds that 60 percent of Americans believe that finding new energy sources is more important than reducing the amount of energy Americans now consume, while only 32 percent believe the opposite. And 51 percent believe that more nuclear plants should be built in the United States, while 31 percent disagree. Some 45 percent believe that global warming is caused primarily by long-term planetary effects, while 38 percent believe that human activity is to blame. Anthropogenetic global warming may be the consensus view of the elite (including corporate leaders who are scrambling to make money off cap-and-trade systems), but there is no such consensus among the public. Rather to the contrary; most Americans think the media is portraying global warming as worse than it is.

Mortgage relief.

Similarly, as Obama unveiled his mortgage refinancing plan, 45 percent of Americans oppose government subsidization of home mortgage payments, while 38 percent favor it.

The GM and Chrysler bailouts.

By a 57 percent to 38 percent margin, Americans believe that it's likely that General Motors and Chrysler will go out of business in the next few years. Also, 44 percent believe it's better for companies like General Motors go out of business rather than have government subsidize them, while 33 percent disagree. And 64 percent are opposed to any more government loans to General Motors and Chrysler, while 24 percent favor them.

Long-term implication: To the extent that these issues remain in the spotlight, they have the potential to erode Obama ' s support or support for Democratic candidates. In my view, it is Democratic candidates who are the more vulnerable, and the damage is already showing up in response to the generic vote question—which party's candidates for Congress do you favor?

Rasmussen's most recent poll finds Democrats ahead of Republicans by just 41 percent-39 percent. There's a big split here between investors (Republican 44 percent-36 percent) and non-investors (Democratic 50 percent-30 percent). Last week Rasmussen reported the Democratic edge on the generic vote as just 40 percent-39 percent, which I called "astonishing." This week's nearly identical result suggests that this is not just statistical noise, but something real. Rasmussen notes that over the past year, Democrats have received between 40 percent and 50 percent on the generic vote question, while Republicans have received between 34 percent and 41 percent. Which is to say, that Democrats are now at the low end of their range, while Republicans are near the high end of theirs. In the 1990s and the early years of this decade, Republicans tended to outperform their generic vote percentages in actual elections; that seemed not to be the case in 2006 and 2008.

Long-term implication: Even if Obama continues to enjoy approval ratings well above 50 percent over the next 21 months, Democratic candidates could be on weaker ground in the 2009 and 2010 elections than they were in 2006 or 2008. Which suggests that Democrats should try to run on Obama's coattails, while Republicans should run against congressional (or state) Democrats rather than against Obama. Democrats will hope that the goodwill toward the president will kindle the enthusiasm that brought so many young and black voters to the polls in 2008. Republicans will hope that voters' tendency to oppose statist policies will depress turnout among Democrats and convert some of those who voted against Republicans in 2006 and 2008 to vote for them in these new political circumstances.

There has been much speculation that we may be reaching an inflection point in opinion on the balance between government and markets. One inflection point came in the 1930s, when Americans came to mistrust markets and trust government; another came in the 1970s, when Americans came to mistrust government and trust markets. The financial crisis and recession we have been passing through has many believing that we're reaching an inflection point like the 1930s, the reversal of the inflection point of the 1970s. The results I've cited on energy, mortgage relief and the GM and Chrysler bailouts suggest we're not there yet.

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