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Will Plugging the Gulf Leak Save the Democrat's Ship in November?


As of early this morning, the oil leak in the Gulf appears to have been plugged and the White House is hoping that the President's political hemorrhaging has been simultaneously cauterized.

Make no mistake, the Gulf oil spill has done considerable political damage to the President. As evidenced by the spate of polls this week, President Obama is in a substantially weakened political condition at a time when Congressional Democrats are facing a potential GOP landslide in November. The oil leak has become a symbol of voter's frustrations with government. The spill crystallized the problem for voters - "Government can't do anything right." Since 9/11 Americans have felt increasingly vulnerable. Katrina, the Great Recession, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bailouts and health care reform have turbo-charged the public's negative attitude toward government.

But it goes further than anti-big government. The public has begun to question whether the federal government is capable of achieving much of anything. The American public has lost faith in government and, as the Washington Post pointed out this week, by extension the public has lost faith in Obama. It's fairly simplistic, but it goes something like this: If the federal government is incapable of plugging a leak in an oil well, how can it possibly fix our economy and create jobs and do all of the other things that this administration has promised since it took office? While that may be unfair, recent polling data--along with developments like the rise of the Tea Party--has shown that this attitude is taking hold and will be a driving force in the 2010 elections. Our sense is that the jobless rate and poor economy are intensifying a long-building voter frustration with government itself. And right now, the government is Obama and the Democrats.

The following is our up to the minute take on the current political landscape:

  1. Plugging the leak gives Obama a chance to take back the political narrative in this country. The fact is that the President has been playing defense for almost 3 months. Nothing that the Administration has done has dented the information flow in the country. It has been the Gulf oil spill and the economy non-stop, 24/7 for nearly 90 days. Now the President has a chance to regain some measure of control over the narrative--hopefully helped by some good economic news. As we said last week, there is no better time to right this ship than over the summer, ideally before Labor Day. Assuming the cap holds, and the cleanup gets fully underway, the public will slowly turn its attention away from the Gulf and back to the economy.
  2. Yesterday the President said that the loss of jobs keeps him up at night and we have no doubt of the veracity of this. The continuing weakness of the economy is potentially fatal to Democrats in the Fall. Voter perceptions of the economy are in the tank, as are voter attitudes toward the administration's efforts to improve the economy and create jobs. (See this CBS poll for some startling numbers: 97% of Americans say the recession will last at least another year; just 13% say Obama's economic programs have helped them personally; and only 23% think the stimulus made the economy better, down from 36% last year.) As a result, President Obama's approval ratings are at all-time lows and more voters now disapprove than approve of the job he is doing.
  3. The latest polling data suggests that there has been an unprecedented swing in support of congressional Republicans - so strong that it now seems more likely than not that the GOP retakes the House in November. The latest generic congressional ballot numbers show Republicans with as much as an eight-point lead, something we've simply never seen before (Gallup has been asking a generic ballot question since 1954 and the previous high water mark for Republicans was +4 in September of 1994). So the news is pretty terrible for Democrats right now. The good news? It's July. As we said in our previous note, the summer is a period when most voters simply aren't all that engaged in politics or policy. And so Democrats have some time--though it isn't much--for things to turn around. And by "turn around," of course, we're talking about the economy. It was just announced that jobless claims last week were at their lowest point in two years and there is no hint of inflation. Of course, the bigger risk at this point may still be stagnant demand and deflation. But what matters politically is all about perception and momentum. A steady stream of good economic news (even if it doesn't immediately result in new jobs) will help Democrats. But it will have to be significant and consistent enough for this Administration--and Democratic candidates--to be able to say "See! It's working!" That might be simply too tall an order in a three- to four-month period.

  4. The passing of financial regulatory reform-or as the White House and MSNBC prefer to call it "sweeping Wall Street reform," along with the $500,000 fine paid by Goldman Sachs yesterday does send a signal that the President and Democrats are working for the people. To some extent, in the absence of a major economic recession, this might be pretty good politics. The problem is that the populist sentiment of 2008 may have been overridden by the anti-government, anti-spending fervor of 2010. We think the passing of this legislation will ultimately be helpful to Obama in 2012, but is likely to have little or no impact in the Congressional elections this Fall.

If there is one common thread to the national polls this week-other than the problems facing Democrats-is that it appears that President Obama has lost the middle of the electorate. Independents have moved away from the President in droves since January of 2009. Yes, some of that support was artificial and bound to move away but the erosion has been substantial and is the main reason the President's approval rating (in some polls) is now underwater--disapproval above his approval. According to the last 5 public polls, the President's approval rating with Independents ranges an abysmal 34-40%.

We fielded a poll the first week of July with 800 registered voters. Those who identify themselves as Independents are a malleable, heterogeneous bunch, shifting with such things as which party is in power and the general faith in government and other institutions. So we thought it might be interesting to give a snapshot of the Independents who we found in a recent survey.

  • Of the 800 respondents, 41% described themselves as political Independents.
  • Of this 41%, one-quarter are pure Independents (i.e. they don't lean toward either of the two major parties), 39% leaned toward the GOP and 30% leaned toward the Democrats.
  • Slightly more than half (54%) of the Independents are men, while the remaining 46% are women. They are similar in age to Republicans and Democrats.
  • Independents are slightly less likely to vote than their counterparts in the Republican and the Democratic Parties: 36% claim that they have voted in "all" recent elections, compared to 43% of Republicans and 42% of Democrats.
  • In the 2008 election, these Independents favored Barack Obama by seven points (39% to 32% among those who voted (10% declined to answer)). Meanwhile, 85% of Republicans voted for John McCain and 85% of Democrats voted for Barack Obama.
  • Looking ahead to the 2010 elections, Independents favor the Republican House candidate in their district by four points (34% to 30%). By comparison, Republicans say they will be voting for the GOP candidate 88% of the time, while just 75% of Democrats say that they will be voting for their own candidate.
  • From a race perspective, Independents (72%) are more likely to be white than Democrats (57%); Republicans (86%), however, are most likely to be white. Democrats are significantly more likely than either Republicans or Independents to be African American or Hispanic.
  • There are no significant differences among Republicans/Democrats/Independents from an education perspective.
  • Like Democrats (24%), Independents (21%) are more likely to be single than their Republican (11%) counterparts.

Independents will be the key in the coming weeks. For Democrats to stave off the GOP in the mid-terms they will need to have the President's approval rating in the mid to high 40's. To get there, the President will need to win back Independent voters.

Thanks again to John Zirinsky and Peter Ventimiglia for their insights and contributions. For real-time reactions to events and more thoughts on the public opinion environment, please follow us on Twitter @lcgpolling.

 

Comments
jack:

This article by Lombardo is so bad that the word "BP" is mention a grand total of zero times in it. He goes on and on regarding the public sentiments against the government's handling of the oil spill, but we hear nothing about the fact that BP is seen as even more at fault than the Government, and Republicans are much more BP-friendly than Democrats are.


Does Lombardo know that in 2008, regulators received gifts and perks from BP managers in exchange for lax oversight? Let me guess...Who was President in 2008? Oh yeah, George W. Bush. But this article mentions none of that. Thanks for nothing, Lombardo.

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masanf:

It took almost three months to plug the leak in the Gulf. THREE MONTHS. By almost all accounts, the administration's clean up effort has been even more incompetent than the attempts to stop the actual leak. It boggles the mind that someone is actually putting forth the notion that, after almost three months of oil leaking and an almost criminally incompetent clean up effort, finally stopping the leak is going to be some sort of benefit to the Democrats. Did someone say "Well, Bush finally got water to the Superdome"?

But by far the greatest sentence is this one:

"Assuming the cap holds, and the cleanup gets fully underway, the public will slowly turn its attention away from the Gulf and back to the economy."

If that is the case, Obama would be better off having the leak continue. The past month and a half has been nothing but negative news on the economy. July 15th and 16th brought even more bad economic news. Manufacturing activity fell by the largest amount in a year, as did consumer sentiment. The Fed this week announced that economic activity has slowed since their last report in April. The election is only three and a half months away. The economy is definitely headed in the wrong direction, not the right one. Anyone counting on the economy to save the Democrats is going to be very, very upset on November 3rd.

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masanf:

It took almost three months to plug the leak in the Gulf. THREE MONTHS. By almost all accounts, the administration's clean up effort has been even more incompetent than the attempts to stop the actual leak. It boggles the mind that someone is actually putting forth the notion that, after almost three months of oil leaking and an almost criminally incompetent clean up effort, finally stopping the leak is going to be some sort of benefit to the Democrats. Did someone say "Well, Bush finally got water to the Superdome"?

But by far the greatest sentence is this one:

"Assuming the cap holds, and the cleanup gets fully underway, the public will slowly turn its attention away from the Gulf and back to the economy."

If that is the case, Obama would be better off having the leak continue. The past month and a half has been nothing but negative news on the economy. July 15th and 16th brought even more bad economic news. Manufacturing activity fell by the largest amount in a year, as did consumer sentiment. The Fed this week announced that economic activity has slowed since their last report in April. The election is only three and a half months away. The economy is definitely headed in the wrong direction, not the right one. Anyone counting on the economy to save the Democrats is going to be very, very upset on November 3rd.

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masanf:

Firstly, I have no idea why it double posted my above comment. Secondly, the first comment by Jack is a complete joke. Are the Democrats in this country ever going to realize that Barack Obama has a measure of responsibility for things that occur on his watch, or are they going to keep blaming Bush for everything? This leak took place over a year after Barack Obama took office and three years after the Dems took control of both chambers of Congress. Barack Obama took more money from BP than any candidate running for president in 2008. The Obama administration waived the pertinent safety and environmental regulations to allow the drilling to take plac in the first place. And if I am not mistaken, and I am not, the tapping of the well took place while Obama was in office. QUIT FREAKIN BLAMING GEORGE BUSH.

As for BP, they do deserve most of the blame for the leak itself, even though the current administration did waive regulations to let them drill. But what this adminstration is 100% responsible for is the clean up effort. The president is responsible for protecting the Gulf from the oil that has spilled. The clean up effort has been nothing short of an absolute disgrace, period. Trying to put the blame for the cleanup effort on the Bush adminstration is even more laughable than Obama's "handling" of the economy. This president has, in eighteen months, done something that I never thought possible: eclipsed the incompetence of the previous administration. The Dems are doomed in November, and they deserve every loss.

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Farleftandproud:

It is prettty pathetic that this oil spill has affected Obama and the Democrats. It was a disaster caused by the fact that there is offshore drilling and BP is completely to blame. Why should the government and taxpayers pick up the tab for this atrocity?

I don't see where any of the conservative governors have done much of anything than Bobby Jindal's ability to get a good photo op, and complain about the lack of funds coming from the federal government; a week after he told the government to stay off his back, and the GOP is the party of "HELL NO". He didn't say "HELL NO" After the oil spill. Palin had the nerve to quote him in a speach; she is such a stupid and moronic woman. Nevertheless the more she campaigns for candidates in places like NH, Wash. and CA, the more of a fool she'll make of herself.

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Aaron_in_TX:

The article's not very good, since it operates with a questionable premise.

The oil spill didn't have a significant effect on Obama's approval rating. Analysis on this very site demonstrated that.

At worst its effect has been 2 or 3 points? And that could easily be the economy.

"The Obama administration waived the pertinent safety and environmental regulations to allow the drilling to take plac in the first place."

Just to clarify, are you FOR or AGAINST environmental regulations and are you FOR or AGAINST drilling? Because this statement is not very clear. It's difficult to be for both - greater regulation means restricted drilling, less regulation means more drilling. You can't have it both ways.

The Bush administration fined BP 20 million for not adhering to saftey regulations in 2005-06. The Obama administration fined them 90 million in the fall of 2009 when it found BP had failed to adhere to those safety regulations imposed upon them by the Bush admin.

But I thought republicans were against interference in business with excessive regulation.

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masanf:

"Does Lombardo know that in 2008, regulators received gifts and perks from BP managers in exchange for lax oversight? Let me guess...Who was President in 2008. Oh yeah, George W. Bush. But this article mentions none of that. Thanks for nothing, Lombardo.

Does jack know that in 2009, the Obama administration waived various regulations so that BP could do what it is doing right now? Let met guess...Who was president in 2009, and was president when BP started on the Deepwater Horizon and during the entirety of the leak and the so-far non-existent cleanup effot? Oh, yeah, Barack Obama. But the first comment mentions none of that. Thanks for nothing, jack.

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StatyPolly:

"The oil spill didn't have a significant effect on Obama's approval rating...At worst its effect has been 2 or 3 points"

I was about to write the exact same thing.

I liked Steve's article. It's well written and I believe he expressed his earnest thoughts. But he is wrong on his premise and conclusion. BObama had 65% job approval when he took office, and still enjoyed 61% approval at the start of the summer of 09, according to the chart above. By the end of the summer of 09 it was down to 50%. I recall reading Newport's piece at the time, that it was the most precipitous Presidential approval drop on Gallup's records. I think since 1940's.

Healthcare Healthcare Healthcare!

Sometime early to mid June is when the big push started. Townhalls in August. Percentage of electorate who STRONGLY oppose the bill is still around 50. Whether these people (myself included) are too ignorant too realize how beautiful this thing will be once it takes full effect in the next three years is besides the point. We would not feel such animosity towards the authors of this reform had we been in the minority on this issue. I, personally would be ticked off at the national electorate if majority supported it. But, as it is, WE feel that arrogant, self-serving politicians shoved it down our throats. I have never seen such contempt from politicians toward voters and never felt so.. frankly, the words that comes to mind are "abused" or "battered", by "my" government.

So, I understand that supporters of HC Bill hope this rage by about half of population goes away over time, and they may very well be right that it will. But, so far, that is far and away the biggest driver of the "anti-government sentiment" that Steve talks about. Oil spill is just a drop in the ocean of discontent.

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jack:
Does jack know that in 2009, the Obama administration waived various regulations so that BP could do what it is doing right now? Let met guess...Who was president in 2009

Oh, so you agree with me that Lombardo shold have mentioned BOTH BP and Obama? Thanks for agreeing.

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real_american:

"Government can't do anything right."

That says it all right there. Conservatives have been saying it for 30 years. Liberals are too stupid to understand that. They are so ignorant that they don't realize that is why there were troubles with Katrina and no trouble with the Oil spill. If they weren't such morons they would learn that:

THE GOVERNMENT CAN'T DO ANYTHING RIGHT.

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StatyPolly:

"This compares to a 48 - 43 percent approval for Obama in a May 26 national poll by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University and a 57 - 33 percent approval last July, just before the political firestorm created by opposition to his health care plan galvanized political opponents and turned independent voters against him."

Healthcare Healthcare Healthcare

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AySz88:

@"real_american": Considering how much government actually does right, there are quotes there for a reason. We don't really need to enumerate what they've done right, I hope? If people are honest about it, I'm sure they can think of plenty of things, and it'd be the vast majority of things it tries to do.

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masanf:

An unintelligent individual wrote:
"I don't see where any of the conservative governors have done much of anything than Bobby Jindal's ability to get a good photo op, and complain about the lack of funds coming from the federal government; a week after he told the government to stay off his back, and the GOP is the party of "HELL NO". He didn't say "HELL NO" After the oil spill"


Hey, maybe he complained about the federal government because IT IS THEIR JOB TO PROTECT THE GULF FROM THE OIL THAT IS SPILLING. You can't understand why this has hurt Obama and the Democrats? Well, I would call you ignorant, but I don't like stating the obvious. The federal government's cleanup efforts have been so incompetent it borders on the criminal. I don't blame Obama for the spill, despite the fact he waived multiple safety and environmental regulations, but I do blame him for the almost nonexistent cleanup that is his job.

I would also like to comment on a ridiculous argument left wing idiots (excuse the redundance)love to use. It goes like this:
1. Conservatives oppose government expansion into areas in which the government shouldn't be involved
2. Conservatives expect the government to do something when the Gulf is threatened with Oil
3. This proves conservatives are hypocrites because they want the government to clean up the oil, but they oppose government run health care.
4. For good measure, let's throw in Sarah Palin for no apparent reason.

Hey genius, conservatives are not anarchists. They believe government has a role. Stating HELL NO to government involvement in a particular realm doesn't mean you are a hypocrite when you expect the government to do the jobs it is supposed to. Why and hell can't some liberals get that through their heads. They think pointing out that conservatives want the government to protect the Gulf is some sort of gotcha moment. Because hey, if I oppose government-run health care, I must obviously be opposed to the government doing its job in protecting American resources.

And an Obama supporter complaining about Jindal going to the Gulf simply for a photo op is simply hilarious. It is like a Lindsay Lohan supporter calling someone a shallow, trashy whore.

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StatyPolly:

Well said, Masanf.

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