Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Use It Before You Lose It

How could these two headlines be connected: "Obama Open to Partisan Vote on Health-Care Overhaul" and "Obama: Unemployment Likely to Keep Ticking Up"?

Many have noted Barack Obama's falling poll numbers, and it may be plausible to suggest that the faster his numbers fall, and the less likely his administration thinks it is for the economy to turn around in the near future, the harder he will push for things like health-care and cap-and-trade to be done---like NOW.

As The Washington Post reports, Obama has begun lobbying Congress with a vengeance on health-care. Democrats are talking about wanting to have a health-care bill passed by the time of the August recess, though many are doubtful that this deadline will be met. Part of this urgency is due, no doubt, to the fact that members of the left have been dreaming for decades about some kind of "universal health-care" (or at least a nationalized system of delivering health-care, which is different from universal health-care). But part of it may be motivated by an anxiety that the Obama administration and, if they're not careful, Congressional Democrats may be on a trip to the negative side of public opinion polling.

Consider this CBS poll, which may oversample Democrats, that shows Obama dropping six points over the past month, from 63% approval to 57%. CBS polling also showed Obama dropping five points from May to June (from 68% to 63%). So that's an 11-point drop over two months. CBS is not an outlier in this; other polls have also noticed declines in support for Obama, especially among independents. Those polled also seem to have lost a significant amount of trust in Obama's handling of the economy.

Fast forward to the middle of early part of September, when Congress returns to work. Say the economic situation continues to worsen. Say the exploding national debt begins to weigh more heavily on the minds of Americans. Say other controversies gnaw away at the administration's public appeal. We could be seeing Obama's approval numbers in the mid-40s (57-11=46). At that point, he could have significantly less leverage to apply to recalcitrant members of Congress.

Therefore, Obama and his team may want to use what popularity he has now in order to push through bills. The faster his numbers decline, the greater the imperative to fight at this instant.

There are two implications of this dynamic. One is that in politics, as in other endeavors, a bird in the hand can be more valued than two or none in the bush.

The other is that those Democrats and Republicans Obama wishes to sway may be offered checks with uncertain political capital behind them. George Bush's support for a Republican officeholder may have seemed priceless in January 2005---by October 2006, not so much. The prospect of evaporating public support would add to the urgency of the Obama administration's push for "change," but this evaporation also makes that present public support that much more ephemeral and unstable. The renewed urgency of the administration on health-care may not be a sign of strength but instead may be motivated, in part, by a fear of growing weakness.


  1. Very interesting post! Keep up the great work!!

  2. Spot on. Linked.


  3. Excellent post! I believe that the urgency is tied to the August break as well but I'll add to your hypothesis.

    The People, with a capital P, are getting restless, confused, and disillusioned with those in Congress for passing things so quickly and for not reading what they pass. They are fearful of the breathtaking amount of money that has been spent since Obama took office.

    Beltway politicians usually use at least part of the break to visit with their constituents. If the souring mood of the country translates to our Washington representatives, that combined with falling poll numbers will sound the death knell for Obama's plans.

    Let's hope and pray that the Republicans can stall Crap & Tax and Healthcare final votes until after the break. I think that is our only chance to defeat those proposals.