Political Animal


June 16, 2011 9:25 AM Playing the blame game

By Steve Benen

Dave Weigel noted in passing yesterday that President Obama’s approval rating, while down from the bump it received in May, “still seems insanely high considering how unhappy voters are about the economy.”

I agree. It’s not that Obama’s support is insanely high; it’s clearly not. The point is we would expect it to be much lower given public anger and frustration. In general, folks are widely dissatisfied with just about everything, and yet, the president’s support remains in the high 40s.

There are competing explanations for this, but something in the NBC/WSJ poll (pdf) stood out for me. Respondents were asked a good question:

“How responsible is President Obama and his administration’s policies for the country’s current economic conditions?”

Just 10% said Obama is “solely responsible,” and 24% said he’s “mainly responsible.” Nearly half the country (48%) believes the president is “only somewhat responsible,” while 16% consider him not responsible for economic conditions at all. These results are roughly the same as they were last fall, before the midterms.

In contrast, the same poll asked how responsible George W. Bush is for the economy. Nearly half the country (47%) believe Bush is either mainly or solely responsible, well more than blame Obama. In fact, more people hold Bush responsible now than they did last fall.

The point is, people are frustrated and pessimistic, but they don’t necessarily see President Obama as the culprit. Indeed, the poll asked, “When you think about the current economic conditions, do you feel that this is a situation that Barack Obama has inherited or is this a situation his policies are mostly responsible for?” A large 62% majority said he inherited the mess.

This may not keep up, but it may help explain why Obama’s approval rating hasn’t completely tanked.

The same poll, by the way, also asked about the debt ceiling. A 39% plurality said the limit shouldn’t be raised, 31% said they don’t know enough to answer, and just 28% said it should be raised. Then the poll told respondents that “some” people believe failing to raise the ceiling “could stop the government from meeting its obligations, including payments to those on Social Security and in the military, and cause a shock to the economy.”

Suddenly, support for doing the right thing went from a 28% minority to a 46% plurality.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • TR on June 16, 2011 9:39 AM:

    On the debt ceiling issue, maybe Democrats could start reminding the public and the media that Republicans in Congress had no problem raising the debt ceiling multiple times when George W. Bush was president.

    The debt ceiling was raised in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007 -- with Republicans providing a majority of votes in the Senate each time.

    Now they're making a big stink out of it, and because most of the public has never heard about this routine issue before, what's long been routine has now come to feel catastrophic.

    Voters need to know the history here. Most of the media is too incompetent to do so, so Democrats will need to make the case.

  • c u n d gulag on June 16, 2011 9:40 AM:

    So many of these polls are skewed because of the way the question is asked.

    Too many pollsters, are you listening Rasmussen/Gallup?, look for certain results, and so ask quesions a particular way.

    I did polling for the Republicans for over half a year until late July of last year, when I just couldn't take it anymore.

    For a Liberal, it was quite an education, to see the types of questions asked, and/or the approved responses that people had to choose from.

    These polls are also used by Republicans for propaganda purposes - the worst example being push-polls. You can't believe some of the way things are worded.

    If you chose a candidate named X, the follow-up question might be somthing like, "How would you feel about X if you knew that he once was accused of molesting a child, and stole from the poor-box at his church, and would you still vote for him."
    This is a bit of an exageration, but not too far off at all from some of the questions I've had to ask.

    I take ALL polls with a grain of salt unless I can read the questions for myself and see if they were fair or skewed.
    Too many are very, very skewed.

  • chi res on June 16, 2011 9:40 AM:

    Poll showing most people understand that Obama is doing the best he can with a bad situation...

    Response from WM commenters: *crickets*

  • walt on June 16, 2011 9:55 AM:

    Obama is the president, and as such will be either blamed or credited for the economy. It's why Republicans feel so confident is sabotaging the economy and not getting blamed by elite opinion for it. To most pundits it's a game where the spectators, the American people, are also the collateral victims of that game. In the meantime, we should enjoy the way Republicans play the game because they do it so well. Besides, Obama has been unnecessarily partisan thoughtout his term.

  • Kathryn on June 16, 2011 9:58 AM:

    I have and will never understand why Democratic talkers do not start every question about debt ceiling with TR's point about debt ceiling raising during Bush's years, think it was raised twice in one of those years. All I can think of is they're afraid (imagine) that Obama's vote against raising limit one year would trump talking point.

  • FRP on June 16, 2011 10:06 AM:

    The contemptible power responsible for the manipulations which amongst its numerous felonies put Georgie Boosch in a position to play fraternity president for an unfolding eternity of woe . Round and round and round she goes , what malady she rests at momentarily we can merely guess . The power of the mighty have been impressed to support an investigative journalism that Procter & Gamble , Colgate-Palmolive , and Lever Brothers perfected on American Television .
    As a great sports writer in Boston once said , paraphrasing alas , after the Marvin Hagler Ray Leonard fiasco of yesteryear , whatever narrative that sells the most tickets is how to pick the winner , regardless of any ephemeral "facts" .
    When jaw dropping , and eye spraining double takes replace referenced , repeatable , observable phenomena you have entered into the corporate reality zone . Do not try to treat your injuries with sensible , useful or helpful protocols . There is nothing wrong with your political clubs dissipation . You are about to participate in an expensive adventure . You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches the middle and lower classes pockets , but has no similar will to reach into the pockets of the top one percents astonishing wealth... There are no limits when you can enjoy unrestrained privilege . Welcome to the Privileged limits , as in no limits for me , but many and harrying limits for theeee ....

  • atlliberal on June 16, 2011 10:06 AM:

    The thing is: What is the alternative? We have President Obama doing the best he can with a bad situation. On the other side you have Republicans screaming about the deficit and debt, while offering more tax cuts for the wealthy as a solution. Voters may not be crazy about how fast things are recovering now, but they aren't crazy enough to vote for Bush on steroids and the dismantling of the few government programs that everyone (except far right republicans) still like.
    I hope.

  • T2 on June 16, 2011 10:07 AM:

    I checked the NBC/WSJ link for the poll, and the way I read it....they only sampled cell phone users, and the sample was almost all White people. What kind of poll is that?

    Secondly, the take-a-way I got from the results is that the Republican Party is digging a very deep hole for itself, especially when an almost all white poll shows these results.

  • jcricket on June 16, 2011 10:10 AM:

    Maybe Obama isn't seen as the sole owner of a bad economy because the public is seeing a Congress who hasn't enacted a jobs bill. In fact, the public is seeing a Congress who wants tax cuts for the rich after having campaigned on 'jobs, jobs, jobs' for regular people in 2010.

    People won't forget a broken promise about jobs as long as they, or someone in their family, is still unemployed or underemployed.

  • jcricket on June 16, 2011 10:11 AM:

    last sentence above...

    is s/b are

  • Mark on June 16, 2011 10:18 AM:

    This must be the driver behind the "he made it worse" meme that the noise machine is ginning up. They need to move these numbers. Obama's instinct is to cut this budget deal as quietly as possible to show that he can make washington "work." but he's going to need to be ready to flip into attack mode come July to pin the downturn on Republicans if he can't get stimulus.

  • Grumpy on June 16, 2011 10:42 AM:

    Nearly half the country (47%) believe Bush is either mainly or solely responsible, well more than blame Obama.

    America, there's hope for you yet.

  • bdop4 on June 16, 2011 10:50 AM:

    "Obama's instinct is to cut this budget deal as quietly as possible to show that he can make washington "work." but he's going to need to be ready to flip into attack mode come July to pin the downturn on Republicans if he can't get stimulus."

    In order to quietly cut a budget deal, he's going to have to give the GOP everything they want. That's not "making Washington work," that's bending over and spreading your cheeks.

    Then he's supposed to "flip into attack mode" next month? Only congenital Obamabots like Chi Res would fail to notice that level of hypocrisy.

    The GOP has been in campaign mode since 1/2009. Dems should flip the switch NOW and run on these issues.

  • Wilbur on June 16, 2011 11:00 AM:

    Gallup gave Dems a 6-point edge in a recent party affiliation poll. The only good news for Republicans is Polls Don't Matter. ;) http://bit.ly/MudPoliticsI

  • John Dillinger on June 16, 2011 11:16 AM:

    Every Obama comment on the economy should start with "I will consider any idea to jump start the economy that may work but I will not consider those proven to not work, which are the Bush policies that got us into this mess, so the Republicans are wasting time by proposing them."

  • FRP on June 16, 2011 11:32 AM:

    The GOP has been in campaign mode since 1/2009

    Or ,
    However long Pinocchio's schnozz is ,
    Or how orange house sprecher
    Julius Magnus Lachrymose's tan iss
    How deep you musst dig to find an applicable Obama destroyed the Virgin Earth reference

    Despicable despicable Virgin Earth destroyin' Obama
    Went to school one day and the odious slanders came followin' after
    all the adults in the room shook their 'Eads
    and said
    Despicabobble Obama Destroyed What Was Once Freedom
    How will we remember
    Who once roamed free ?
    Of the things we mourn , sigh
    Our freedom though it is gone
    Being Obama's fault
    Who we shall blame once Obama is gone

  • wew49 on June 16, 2011 12:02 PM:

    I told someone that's all Obama would have to do with that damn Debt Ceiling. Just let folks at home know "No Checks, people; you better call your congress critters & tell them to vote if you ever want one again!"

    Of course, he would have been more "professorial" & elegant about it; everybody knows someone who gets a 'gubmint' ck!

  • Anonymous on June 16, 2011 1:27 PM:

    Dear Lord. Of course it's encouraging that 62% believe Obama inherited the mess, but that also means that the other 38% have no recollection of what was going on just three years ago. That's scary.

  • chi res on June 16, 2011 7:42 PM:

    Then he's supposed to "flip into attack mode" next month? Only congenital Obamabots like Chi Res would fail to notice that level of hypocrisy.

    The only congenital hypocrites I've noticed around here are those, like bwhatever4, who love to bash Obama for weeks as an important issue approaches a crisis, but then are nowhere to be found once our President has cleverly led the Republicans down a blind alley.

    Weren't you the one who lied about the numbers on the budget deal, b4? Now you're already starting to spin the debt ceiling vote against Obama, before it even happens. What a fucking piece of work you are!

    It's very obvious whose side you're rooting for, and it ain't the Democrats.