A new McClatchy-Marist poll was released today and it contained some that should give both the White House and President a cause for concern as they implement the President’s new centrist strategy. According to the poll, Obama’s approval rating has dropped to a new low of 42%. This decline is being fueled by a near doubling in his disapproval rating among Democrats.
According to McClatchy, Obama is struggling because Democrats are rebelling against his move to the middle. Obama’s approval rating dropped among Democrats from 82% last month to 74% in December. More troubling than the decline in approval is the increase in disapproval. Obama’s disapproval rating with Democrats has jumped from 11% in November to 21% in December. Obama’s rating has also dropped with liberals. He has gone from 78% to 69%, and his disapproval rating has jumped from 14% to 22%. This entire shift can be attributed to Obama’s compromise on the Bush tax cuts, and his base’s outrage and rejection of the deal.
The President could compensate for the loss of some Democrats if his move to the middle was gaining him support with Independents, but as of right now this is not happening. Obama’s approval rating remains flat lined at 39% and his disapproval ratings is stuck at 52%. This White House made the mistake of believing that their base was different from that of the GOP. It isn’t. A significant piece of the Democratic base does not want a compromiser president. They want a fighter. What has most angered the part of the base that is upset is that Obama appeared to quickly give in to the Republican demands on the Bush tax cuts.
The appearance of a quick acquiescence returns us to what I see as the biggest problem this administration has. They don’t understand or engage in the theater of politics. Much of what we see in politics every day is a show designed for the media and the base. The problem for this administration is that they don’t want to engage in the presidential showmanship. For example, let’s take look at what Obama could have done on the issue of the Bush tax cuts. Obama could have come out right away and said, “I am going to be sitting down and engaging in tough negotiations with the Republican leadership. They are going to have to meet certain demands of mine before any deal is reached, and my top demand is good faith gesture of passage of an extension of unemployment benefits.”
Instead of rushing into a deal with Republicans, the White House could have taken couple of weeks to update America on the progress of the meetings. Even if they would have had the framework of a deal hammered out, Obama could have continued to lobby for his priorities. That’s part of the showmanship of politics. Obama could have announced an 11th hour deal on Christmas Eve to extend unemployment benefits and a temporary extension of the tax cuts. The President would have avoided looking like someone who weakly gave in to GOP demands. He would have appeared to a fighter who went tooth and nail with the Republicans and took it down to the wire. With a little patience and few strong public statements, Obama would have avoided a rebellion by his base.
The deal Obama made was good practical politics, but it has been an emotional disaster for some on the left. Much of this backlash is Obama’s own creation. The President spent six weeks campaigning all across America on the issue of no additional tax cuts for the top 2% only to quickly reverse himself a month after Democrats lost the 2010 elections. To the base, this about face is hurtful and confusing. There are some on the left who don’t trust Obama anymore.
The White House needs to start understanding the emotional component of governing. Their statements and decisions have emotional consequences. Obama’s base isn’t as logical and rational as he is. Obama needs to emotionally reconnect, and understand that some on the left want a fighter, not just a decider. The good news is that one strong battle with Republicans will get the base back. They aren’t gone forever. Deep down inside they still support Obama. They just need to see that Obama supports them too.