Obama's poll numbers falling, hard

The president's approval rating is dropping, and Americans aren't happy with his healthcare approach

By Alex Koppelman
Published July 30, 2009 5:01PM (EDT)

President Obama is no George W. Bush, and he's certainly not Dick Cheney either. But his poll numbers aren't exactly setting the world on fire these days.

Just about every pollster out there shows the president's approval rating dropping recently, and after a spate of bad numbers released earlier this week, two polling aggregates have Obama's approval hitting a new low. Pollster.com's average is at 52.1 percent approval as opposed to 41.6 percent disapproval, while RealClearPolitics' stands at 53.6 percent approval to 39.3 percent disapproval.

It's far too early for these numbers to say anything about 2010 or, God forbid, 2012. But they will influence the healthcare fight, just as they've been influenced by that battle and its progress. The lower ratings mean less political capital for the White House, less chance that recalcitrant members of Congress will be swayed solely by the president's popularity.

Similarly, the ratings for the Democrats' healthcare reform proposals are also taking a nosedive. And yes, it's true that the public has even less confidence that Republicans can fix the system -- but they're not the ones trying to pass ambitious legislation.

The drop in Obama's numbers has been inspiring some comparisons to Bill Clinton and his failed effort at healthcare reform, especially because the two men have similar approval ratings when poll respondents were asked only about their handling of the issue. But Newsweek's Katie Connolly sees some good news for Obama, and argues that the comparison is inapt:

We should be comparing overall approval, where Obama’s is still 12-15 points higher than Clinton’s 41 percent depending on the poll. That’s good news for Obama -- he still has credibility with voters and can build on it. He’s also much further along the process than Clinton was, another reason for him to take heart. Moreover, respondents in the New York Times poll prefer Obama’s ideas on health care to Republicans in Congress 55 percent to 26 percent.

That seems about right. But it's a much different Congress now, and while Obama's overall approval will help him, that may not be the number that vital members inclined to oppose Democratic proposals focus on.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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