Once again, Americans are smarter than the media

While pundits warn that Obama's TV tour left him "overexposed," polls show Americans like seeing their president


Joan Walsh
September 23, 2009 2:23AM (UTC)

A slumping President Obama, battered in the polls and facing charges he's "overexposed" in the media, will get the blame if he doesn't pass healthcare reform this year. Or so goes an increasingly negative media narrative in the wake of a tough month for the new president.

But the most recent NBC/WSJ poll released Tuesday turns almost all of those assumptions on their head. Only a third of those polled said Obama is "overexposed" in the media -- 63 percent said his exposure was either just right or too little. Thirty-seven percent said congressional Republicans would be to blame if Obama's healthcare reform drive fails; only 10 percent would blame Obama. Almost 80 percent of Americans said they like the president personally, and his job approval has held steady over the last rocky month, at 51 percent.

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Far from hurting the president or his agenda, this week's media blitz seems to have improved his numbers on healthcare, specifically. Last month, only 41 percent of Americans approved of the way he was handling the issue, while 47 percent disapproved; now it's 45 percent-46 percent. In particular, Obama has rallied Democrats behind his plan: Last month 62 percent  of Democrats backed Obama's plan; now 69 percent  do.

It's not all good news for Obama and those who support robust health insurance reform, including a public option. MSNBC's Ed Schultz pointed to a vexing paradox: While an impressive 73 percent of those polled say it's extremely important that the plan have a public option (only 23 percent say it's unimportant), 48 percent oppose the public option, while 46 percent support it. Go figure.

There's similar confusion about Obama's stimulus plan: 45 percent said it was a bad idea, with 34 percent supporting it, and yet on balance -- 46 percent to 43 percent -- they believe the recession would have been worse without it.

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And a combination of confusion and dissent over Afghanistan seems to be pulling down Obama's approval rating on foreign policy issues: It's dropped from 57 percent to 50 percent since July.

Clearly the president still has a slog ahead of him as the competing versions of healthcare reform plans -- all crafted by Democrats, by the way -- make their way through Congress. But it's also clear that the Obama administration's best political asset is Obama, and the White House should continue to tune out Beltway doubters.

Meanwhile, though, the best news about healthcare reform came from Will Ferrell and MoveOn today: The left has a sense of humor, and this video spoofing the insurance industry's syrupy "We're on your side" ad campaign made me laugh out loud. (Jon Hamm's harried, sexy health insurance exec could make me turn against the public option.) Great work, MoveOn! 

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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