By Amie Parnes and Justin Sink - 03/20/13 09:00 AM EDT
The second-term honeymoon for President Obama is beginning to look like it is over.
Obama, who was riding high after his reelection win in November, has seen his poll numbers take a precipitous fall in recent weeks.
A CNN poll released Tuesday showed Obama’s favorability rating underwater, with 47 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving of Obama’s handling of his job.
Much of the president’s agenda is stuck, with climate change regulations delayed, immigration reform mired in committee negotiations and prospects for a grand bargain budget deal in limbo at best.
Republicans, sensing the sea change, are licking their chops. They point to the lack of movement on Obama’s signature issues, noting the contrast to the ambitious plans outlined in the early weeks of his second term.
“The president set very high goals for himself during his State of the Union, but the reality is very little of his agenda is actually moving,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said. “He allowed himself to get caught up in the legislative quicksand, [and] the cement is beginning to harden. “
History isn’t on Obama’s side.
The last four presidents who won a second term all saw their poll numbers slide by mid-March with the exception of Bill Clinton, whose numbers improved in the four months following his reelection.
Clinton may have only been delaying the inevitable. His numbers dropped 5 points in April 1994. Even Ronald Reagan, buoyed by a dominant performance over Walter Mondale in the 1984 election, saw a double-digit erosion by this point in his second term.
Obama has yet to complete the first 100 days of his second term. But without a signature achievement since his reelection, he faces a crossroads that could define the remainder of his presidency.
White House aides maintain that the 24-hour news cycle makes comparisons to previous presidents difficult.
“I think the nature of our politics now is different than Ronald Reagan’s honeymoon,” one senior administration official said. “The ebb and flow of politics doesn’t follow that model anymore.”
But observers say a drop in popularity is typical for second-termers.
“There may be some typical second-term honeymoon fade happening,” said Martin Sweet, an assistant visiting professor of political science at Northwestern University. “Honeymoon periods for incumbents are a bit more ephemeral.”
But like most other presidents, Sweet added, “Obama’s fate is tied to the economy.”
“Continuing economic progress would ultimately strengthen the president but if we are hit with a double-dip recession, then Obama’s numbers will crater,” he said.
The White House disputes any notion that Obama has lost any political capital in recent weeks.
“The president set out an ambitious agenda and he’s doing big things that are not easy, from immigration to gun control,” the senior administration official said. “Those are policies you can’t rack up easily, and no one here is naive about that.”
The White House is aware that the clock is ticking to push its hefty agenda, but the official added, “The clock is not ticking because of president’s political capital. The clock is ticking because there’s a timetable in achieving all of this. [Lawmakers] are not going to sign on because the president’s popular.”
And administration officials believe they still have the leverage.
Republican strategist Ken Lundberg argued that current budget fights “have cut short the president’s second-term honeymoon.”
He said this could also hurt the president’s party, warning “the lower the president’s approval rating, the bigger the consequence for vulnerable Democrats.”
“Voters want solutions, and if they see the president headed down the wrong path, lockstep lawmakers will be punished in 2014,” he said.
Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis maintained that as long as he’s president, Obama still has the leverage.
“Immigration reform doesn’t get impacted by whether Obama’s poll numbers are 55 or 45,” Kofinis said. “Does it make certain things a little more difficult? Possibly. But while his numbers may have fallen, he’s still more likeable than the Republicans are on their best day.”
Kofinis said the real question for Obama is what kind of emphasis he’s going to place on his second term because the public will have less patience than they did during his first.
“The challenge in a second term is the American people look at certain things and have a higher tolerance in a second term,” he said. “When they know you’re not running for reelection again, they hold you to a higher standard.”
Bonjean and other Republicans are aware that Obama could potentially bounce back from his latest slip in the polls and regain his footing.
“He has the opportunity to take minor legislative victories and blow them up into major accomplishments – meaning if he got something on gun control, he can tout that that was part of his agenda and the work isn’t over. If he were able to strike a grand bargain with Republicans, that’d be a legacy issue.”
Still, Bonjean added, “It’s not looking so good right now.”