Hope and Change? Try Static Disappointment

Once again Obama is losing support over the economy.

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Delaying the employer mandate in the president's health care law will cost $12 million and lead to cuts in coverage, according to a Congressional Budget Office report.

On Monday, Gallup took a summary view of President Obama's job approval rating and observed that each summer, it has regularly and noticeably declined. While Obama is not the only president to experience a drop in approval during the summer months, Gallup noted that Obama's dips have "become a familiar pattern."

Although Gallup isn't sure what's behind the decline, the statistical analysis they released on Tuesday, showing that Obama's job approval rating is significantly influenced by his approval on the economy, suggests that, once again, "it's the economy, stupid."

That what's underlying Obama's recurring summer drop seems to be a frustration among Americans that the economy is not doing all that much better than it was the year before, despite the administration's frequent "pivots" to jobs and the economy. In short, Obama's on-again, off-again economic messaging may be inducing his own ratings decline. 

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Think back over Obama's presidency. Most years, especially during the autumn months, some indicators suggest that while weak, the economy was on a path towards recovery (e.g., 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012). Obama's team would then employ the more positive data to argue during the State of the Union Address that the president's economic policies were working and to announce new programs demonstrating the administration's commitment to enhancing the recovery. Obama would then embark on a tour around the country, touting his proposals and talking up the economy. Each spring, there were often more optimistic assessments of "green shoots" and "glimmers of hope." But by the summer, these predictions that economic growth would soon be self-sustaining turned out to be as fleeting as the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C.

While neither the quarter-to-quarter growth in real GDP nor the unemployment statistics fits well the seasonal pattern in Obama's approval, Gallup's "economic confidence index" does. For instance, early in 2011, the index hit -18, which was the best it had done since before the start of the recession in 2008. But by the middle of the year, the index read -54, and it did not climb above -30 until the start of 2012. Hope, then disappointment. Americans seem to want to believe the economy's going to get better. They seem to want to trust the president. But then, the economy doesn't improve and they can't suspend reality.

If Obama wants to get out of his summer approval doldrums, he should stop raising the public's expectations every winter. Or he should do something that's not considered his strong suit: follow through.

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