A bad time for Obama’s approval dip

President Obama’s approval ratings are plummeting, and the timing is terrible for the White House.

Even as Obama skewered Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the House GOP budget plan, his approval rating dipped in a Gallup poll to 41 percent, the lowest number yet of his presidency.

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A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday shows Obama at 47 percent, down seven points since January.

Worse yet for the White House, Gallup shows the president in a nosedive with independents, who are coveted by the Obama-Biden 2012 campaign. 

From April 12-14, independents’ approval of Obama fell to 35 percent, 9 percentage points off his average for the year, according to Gallup.

Rising gas prices are no doubt a problem for the White House, and may be a main factor in the plummeting poll numbers. The higher gas prices generally rise, the lower a president’s approval ratings tend to be.

Still, it is disconcerting for the White House and Obama’s new campaign operation in Chicago to see falling poll numbers just after the president launched his reelection campaign with a strategy of focusing on the economy and the contrasting economic visions of the president and the GOP. 

White House officials insist they are focused on the long run and do not put much stock in short-term polls. With time, officials say, the arguments Obama is laying out will work to his advantage.

But there are trends at play that should give even a long-ball player like Obama political adviser David Plouffe some concern.

The White House has repeatedly angered its liberal base by seeking compromise with Republicans, increasing the importance for Obama of attracting independent voters next year.

If anything, the deal to avert the government shutdown should have helped Obama with that bloc. Instead, polling showed that the president didn’t get noticeable credit or blame.

The trouble started, according to the polls, when Obama went nuclear on Ryan and the GOP, inviting them to a speech on fiscal policy that turned out to be a public kick in the pants.

While White House advisers pushed back hard on the idea that Obama was giving a campaign speech, a subsequent campaign email from Obama campaign chief Jim Messina that night and Obama’s incorporation of the theme into campaign events in Chicago seemed to put that point to rest.

The concern for the White House is that voters don’t like their president to be acting like a candidate when they want him focused on the economy. 

With just a few days of hindsight, it’s not difficult to imagine that Obama’s advisers saw the Ryan plan, and particularly its proposed reforms to Medicare, as a political gift. The White House could not resist the temptation to go for a knockout punch. 

In swinging for the knockout, the president might have gone too far. 

Despite the ever-present acrimony in Washington, Obama generally gets credit from independents for trying to change the tone in Washington. By pulling out the big guns on Ryan, Obama might have holstered one of his most valuable traits.

Democratic strategists, hopeful that the downward polls are the result of rising gas prices, say that Obama is taking a “calculated risk” in trying to rally his liberal base with some good old-fashioned partisan warfare.

“Right now he needs to fire up his base and get the grassroots operation and fundraising into gear,” said one Democratic strategist. “There is time to come back to independents — particularly since the GOP has lost its way so badly and Trump could be their nominee.”

Democrats believe that every day real estate mogul Donald Trump is appearing in living rooms around the country as a possible GOP presidential candidate, the more Obama looks like a serious, sober-minded president focused on issues people care about.

Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University, said she agrees that Obama used last week’s speech as an effort to bring Democrats in line. 

“His partisan budget speech last Wednesday may help restore some of his support among Democrats and begin the process of rallying his base in advance of the 2012 election,” Brown said. 

On the other hand, Monday’s decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade its outlook on U.S. debt is bad news for the president’s efforts to attract independents, Brown said. 

With that announcement, “it would not be surprising to see the president’s support continue to fall among independents who for the past year have seemed nearly as concerned about the nation’s fiscal future as bond traders,” she said.

Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill. Find his column, Obama’s Bid for Reelection, on thehill.com