President Obama’s poll numbers improved over the final days of 2014. Before the midterm elections, Obama’s approval rating in Gallup averaged just 41 percent, only a couple points higher than George W Bush at the same point in his presidency. As the year ended, though, Obama’s approval had risen to 48 percent, a recent high for the White House. This “bump” is likely to be very short-lived.
The White House apparently believes Obama’s higher approval ratings are due, in part, to his unilateral actions on immigration, climate change and Cuba. Some economic data at the end of the year was more favorable than expected. The unexpected drop in gasoline prices has improved consumer confidence.
As a result, the White House is putting Obama on the road, conducting a series of campaign-style events around the country in a lead-up to the State of the Union address on January 20th. The White House is also taking a more dogmatic line on several policies, issuing a firm veto threat over the Keystone pipeline.
The White House is delusional if it thinks a more omniscient and forceful, even unilateral, action by Obama is the answer to his weak poll numbers.
In each of his last six years in office, Obama has experienced an upturn in his end-of-the-year polling. By late January or early February, this approval bump has disappeared and repeated post-holiday trends. For most of the past six years, consumer confidence and optimism about the economy has also improved at the end of the year. We’ve entered most years recently with the clear expectation that the economic “recovery” was gaining steam and would finally take hold in the new year. By mid-year, these hopes are dashed.
Obama’s improved polling seems then to be more of a “Christmas bounce” rather than any changing voter views of his policies or actions. Such a phenomenon makes some sense, as most Americans are focused on the holidays, family and friends and turn their attentions away from politics. It would be hard to immerse oneself in holiday cheer, Nat King Cole and egg nog and not feel a little better about the future. Okay, your mileage may vary on that, but the main point stands.
There is a more serious challenge for the White House as it struggles to maintain Obama’s improved poll numbers. Events always trump the West Wing’s best laid plans, and today’s threaten to obliterate them.
The stunning attacks in Paris this week thrust foreign policy and national security back into the headlines. These issues have not been strengths for Obama in recent years. The public slowly turned against Obama’s domestic policies over his years in office. It swiftly turned against his foreign policies as tensions around the world have mounted quickly. Among military service members, Obama’s approval is just 15 percent. That feeling will permeate through the public, especially as threats, real and perceived, accumulate.
On the domestic front, the full effects of ObamaCare are only now coming into view. Leftists and pundits who marveled that ObamaCare seemed to be “working,” forgot that most of its effects had been put off by the Obama Administration. Those exemptions are now coming due.
The employer mandate for coverage takes effect this year. In the coming months, Americans will have to sort out their taxes and ObamaCare’s impact. Insurance plans are more completely adjusting their coverage to comply with new mandates, without the government payments meant to smooth the transitions. The recent complaint of Harvard professors about ObamaCare-mandated changes to their health insurance is both the greatest gift of schadenfreude in history and a glimpse of a process that will play out across the country.
These are just two known events that will severely test the White House. The unknown variables include the impact of a downturn in China, tensions with Russia, a new Europe debt crisis, Fed policy and an economy that seems very weak without oceans of monetary stimulus.
By the end of the year, both parties will be in the full throws of another presidential election. Politically, Obama will be a supporting character with a greatly-diminished role in the nation’s political story-line.
The White House can be expected to try to squeeze out a few more news cycles of improving poll numbers. The Obama Presidency is probably hitting its final peak.