The Campaign Spot

Obama Winning or Tying the Debt-Ceiling Fight, Losing 2012 Battle?

Polling on the debt-ceiling debate suggests that Republicans aren’t winning the public debate, or at least not decisively; they’re still on the hook for considerable blame if the country does default, and their overall approval is low.

Yet at the same time, Gallup offered the surprising result of Obama trailing a generic Republican Candidate, 47 percent to 39 percent, and the president’s approval rating remains pretty lousy even during the debt crisis — 44 percent in Gallup, 46.2 percent in the RealClearPolitics average.

My regular correspondent Number Cruncher checks in, trying to make sense of the contradictory signals:

Conventional wisdom is that Obama is winning the debate (how many times have we read that the past 10 days?), and that the GOP has not played its cards correctly.  I won’t argue that the GOP has an amazing ability to shoot itself in the foot.  But the numbers don’t square up to the conventional wisdom:

1. Obama’s approval rating (based on 3-day average) — I turn to the two gold standard polling trackers, specifically Rasmussen and Gallup.  With Rasmussen we have Obama at a 44% approval, the last time Obama received 44% approval in Rasmussen was April 11th — in those days Bin Laden was breathing oxygen, dreaming about killing Americans and catching up on porn.  What is slightly notable here is that on July 14th Obama was at 49% — I am not ready to say Obama is falling (at least not yet), but clearly his media blitz did not help.  In order to test Rasmussen I turn to Gallup.  The three day polling ended on 7/17 indicates that Obama has an identical 44%.  These levels are also among the lowest in Obama’s Presidency.

2. We have seen a lot of preferential polls, many indicating that the GOP would get the blame if the government “Defaults”.  In tracking Rasmussen’s party preferential poll the data doesn’t appear to square up to the media narrative. Yesterday Rasmussen released their weekly Generic Congressional Poll.  The GOP lead this poll 44% to 38%, last week the poll was 44% to 38% zero change (despite the Obama media blitz).  On July 2nd it was 43-40%, which might have been an outlier as the June 6th Poll was 37%-43%.  Once again, despite the rhetoric the polling indicates that there has been very little change.

Perhaps the numbers would change if there is an “event” which moves the voters.  However from what the numbers show is that the voters appear to be trending away from Obama.  Perhaps more frustrating for the Obama is that voters have been unmoved despite the President’s use of the Bully Pulpit (and may in fact be moving away).

To play off your favorite line . . . Obama’s oratory effectiveness has reached its expiration date.

I think he’s largely right, although I would leave open the possibility that Rasmussen’s likely-voter screen is too “tight” and results in a sample a bit too favorable to Republicans. I suspect that when it comes to the debt ceiling and the overall problem of the runaway debt, the American people’s analysis is in line with that of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update expert, Oscar Roberts:


The Ryan plan, budget cuts, entitlement reforms — these changes sound painful and scary, and so plenty of Americans prefer to believe the happy illusion that the budget can be balanced just by cutting unpopular programs like foreign aid. When the president and the Democrats go on and on about tax breaks for corporate jets and yachts, I suspect plenty of folks believe that a debt-crisis solution is a few easy tax hikes away.

However, when it comes to the economy as a whole, the last few months of the unemployment rate creeping up have shaken the already weak case that the country was in a significant recovery. Americans may think that Obama is right, or less wrong, than Republicans on the debt-ceiling fight. But they seem increasingly skeptical that he’ll be the right answer in November 2012.


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When I saw the chop-suey font in the CNN story I was reminded of a powdered-drink product from my youth: Funny Face.