How are the prospects for President Obama’s second term in office? Pretty good, I’d say, all things being considered. The President is duly aware of what he calls “locusts”—unforeseen events that swarm the political landscape and destroy the prospects for anything good to grow there. He knows that a lot of otherwise promising presidential second terms have faltered and failed and he knows that his second term might be like that. Or so says today’s New York Times.
On the other hand, the New York Times released yesterday the poll that they conducted, with CBS, on January 11—15 and it looks pretty good. (I just love it when they publish polls.) Here are five things I like about his prospects.
1. People are not at all excited about the new healthcare prospects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (hereafter P-PAC, in honor of all the peas I harvested for Del Monte in the summer of 1958). A third of the New York Times/CBS sample would like to see the entire law repealed. That is 1% less than the number who identify themselves as “conservative on most political matters.” Some (19%) would like to see the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance (the individual mandate) repealed. Some (18%) would like to keep the law as it is. A few more (24%) would like to see it expanded. I think that’s not too bad for a law that has been trashed without much subtlety and the benefits of which have yet to kick in. It is reasonable to expect that people will be more favorable about P-PAC when they have experiences with it and not only warnings about it.
2. Also, the economy is thought to be improving, and not just by economists. When the economy improves, the President is thought to be smarter, more decisive, nicer to his children, and more likely to be a Christian (rather than a Muslim) and to have been born in the United States. A substantial minority (40%) of those surveyed are not concerned at all that they or someone else in their household might be out of work in the next 12 months. Except for the number a month ago, you have to go all the way back to the summer of 2011 to get more than 40% on that question. And an additional 33% say they are only “somewhat concerned.” An additional 27% say they are “very concerned,” but that number hasn’t been lower than 30% since the summer of 2009 and I think it will continue to decline unless there are “locusts.”
The more general numbers about the economy are not as rosy as that. Those who disapprove of “the way Barack Obama is handling the economy” outnumber those who approve by 49% to 46%. On the other hand, there aren’t that many people, it seems to me, who can distinguish between Obama’s handling of the economy and the condition of the economy. And, in answer to the “condition of the economy” question, 32% say “good” or “fairly good,” while 66% say “bad” or “fairly bad.”
3. The political side of these economic questions always asks who you would rather have making the decisions and what approach to the decisions you have more confidence in. President Obama has been fortunate in his enemies. Some support for my contention that President Obama’s situation is pretty good can be found by looking at the people’s alternatives. Speaker of the House John Boehner is not thought to be handling his job very well—49% disapprove; only 29% approve. Majority leader Harry Reid, over in the Senate, is in pretty much the same boat—45% disapprove and only 29% approve. So people would rather have the executive branch in charge of framing and answering the questions than the legislative branch. Note that this is not a Republicans v. Democrats question. It is an executive branch v. legislative branch question.
4. One of the framing questions is who is responsible for the economic slump we are still experiencing. After four years of trying to cope with this question, Obama is still seen as least responsible for causing it. In the blame index, he gets 13%. Everyone else gets more: the Bush administration 27%, Wall Street financial institutions 19%, and Congress 14%.
And it gets worse. Who do you trust more to make the right decisions about the nation’s economy? Obama 50%, “Republicans in Congress,” 35%. The right decisions about the budget deficit? Obama 50%, Republicans in Congress 37%. The right decisions about taxes? Obama 52%, Republicans in Congress, 36%.
And how should these agreements be arrived at? Should they be produced by compromise as both Speaker Boehner (intermittently) and President Obama (persistently) have said or by “sticking to the original positions,” which characterizes a portion of Boehner’s majority in the House so large that he couldn’t get Republicans to pass a bill he wanted them to pass? Most Americans favor compromise (84%) over “stick to the positions,” 11%. The Republicans in Congress are particularly at risk here because 80% of those surveyed said they should compromise and only 14% said they should stick to their positions. People feel that the best way to reduce the federal budget deficit is a combination of raising taxes and cutting spending—Obama calls it “a balanced approach.” The combination gets 61% of Americans, where just raising taxes gets 3% and just cutting spending gets 33%.
5. Of course, not all the questions Americans have are about the economy. We seem to like what the President is doing on foreign policy (49% approve to the 36% who disapprove). People are optimistic about the next four years of an Obama administration (59% optimistic v. 38% pessimistic). People are confident in Obama’s ability to make the right decisions about Afghanistan: “very confident” and “somewhat confident” total to 62%; “not too confident” and “not at all confident” total to 36%. The same groupings show confidence in Obama’s ability to make the right decisions in protecting the country from a terrorist attack (69% to 30%) and the right decisions about immigration (55% to 44%)
People don’t trust President Obama overwhelmingly, of course, but they trust him on a lot of things. And they trust “the Republicans in Congress” or Speaker John Boehner even less. They would rather see the crucial decisions made in the executive branch than the legislative branch. They favor the approach to handling the deficit that the President (and occasionally the Speaker) favors, but not the approach the conservatives in the House favor. They are optimistic about the future.
If I held a federal office—God forbid—I would much rather be in the President’s shoes than in anyone else’s.
 That doesn’t reflect the majorities in the districts that sent these Congressmen to Washington, of course, which is another problem the Speaker faces.