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January 18, 2012 2:50 PM Playing the blame game

By Steve Benen

There would appear to be a contradiction in the polls. On the one hand, Americans continue to be deeply unsatisfied with the state of the economy. On the other, President Obama’s approval rating has been pretty stable in the mid- to high-40s.

The key to understanding this is simple — most folks still don’t blame the president for the mess he inherited.

A majority of Americans believe that former President George W. Bush is more responsible than President Obama for the current economic problems in the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said that Bush was more to blame while 29 percent put the blame on Obama; 9 percent said both men deserved blame while 6 percent said neither did. Among registered voters, the numbers are almost identical; 54 percent blame Bush, while 30 percent blame Obama.

Independents, widely considered the most critical voting bloc this fall, continue to blame Bush far more than Obama for the economic troubles. Fifty-seven percent of unaffiliated voters put the blame on the former Republican president, while 25 percent believe the blame rests more with Obama.

Heck, even one in five Republicans say Bush is more responsible than Obama for the state of the economy!

Every time I’ve mentioned this in months passed, there’s an uptick in angry emails from Republicans who simply don’t believe the polls on this. I can appreciate a healthy degree of skepticism as much as the next guy, but the polling on this has been remarkably consistent for a long while.

This may not matter, at least far as electoral considerations are concerned. Americans were inclined to blame Bush for the economy in 2010, too, and if memory serves, GOP candidates did pretty well anyway. Voters may well conclude that Obama isn’t to blame for the mess, but they’re not satisfied with the speed with which he’s cleaning it up.

But when given a choice, the American mainstream hasn’t completely forgotten who created the mess in the first place.

What’s more, as long as we’re on the subject of blame, a New York Times/CBS News poll released this morning also found that Americans hold Republicans responsible for the gridlock in Washington. The survey found 60% of the public believes President Obama is “attempting to work with Congressional Republicans to try to accomplish something,” while only 27% say the same about GOP lawmakers. It’s probably why the president’s approval rating is roughly quadruple that of Congress.

Taken together, the American mainstream blames the economy on Bush and the mess in D.C. on congressional Republicans. This probably isn’t how the GOP hoped to start 2012.

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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  • Sam on January 18, 2012 3:02 PM:

    In order for Obama to take advantage, he will have to tie this to the fact that Romney lauded Bush's policies in 2008 even as they tore down the economy and that his proposals are identical if not more dangerous than Bush's. I'm sure there's footage all over the place of Romney in 2004-2008 saying how great Bush is.

  • jTh on January 18, 2012 3:05 PM:

    On the darker side, of course these polls also point toward the 25% of Americans who just aren't willing to live within the real world at all. It's a strikingly consistent number. (For instance, the number that thought well of Sarah Palin.)

  • walt on January 18, 2012 3:09 PM:

    The blame game about the economy is interesting but not necessarily dispositive when it comes to voting this fall. What needs to be emphasized is the Republican Party's complete capture by Wall Street sharpies. In effect, you need Elizabeth Warren's Massachusetts campaign nationalized. Ultimately, it won't do that much good if Obama wins re-election without a mandate to fix the financial sector. Yes, it's complicated. But without tougher regulations, the economy will simply drive off the next cliff.

  • beep52 on January 18, 2012 3:10 PM:

    and yet, Romney polls within spitting distance of Obama if the general were held today.

  • T2 on January 18, 2012 3:22 PM:

    listening to MSNBC early this afternoon, the Andrea had a Dem on - forgot the name but wish I hadn't- she got into the Congress is Bad poll numbers and the Dem just said 'hey, people see whats going on, they see the GOP Obstruction". She attempted to get into the "both sides do it narrative" but the guy threw it right back into her face....tossing off vote after vote where the GOP obstructed positive attempts by President Obama to improve things. He really did a great job...too bad he doesn't have Wasserman -Schulz's job.
    The point is, poll after poll shows the general public is blaming the right people....the GOP. Now if they'll just talk with their votes, we'll get somewhere.

  • RL Alitheia on January 18, 2012 3:22 PM:

    Steve- I would think that the Republican emails of disbelief that you get are probably just more proof that a majority of those people live inside the far-right echo chamber, which continually tells them how "the American people want to get rid of Obama," how "this is the Obama Recession," etc.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on January 18, 2012 3:22 PM:

    This may not matter, at least far as electoral considerations are concerned. Americans were inclined to blame Bush for the economy in 2010, too, and if memory serves, GOP candidates did pretty well anyway.

    I wish political junkies wouldn't toss out statements like this without explaining the importance of turnout. Elections are not censuses, and they are not inferences based on randomly selected samples.

  • kindness on January 18, 2012 3:24 PM:

    Committed conservatives WANT to believe what they hear on Fox, Rush, etc so when you tell them they are wrong and give them statistical or polling evidence, they interpret it as evidence that you are biased. Go figure.

  • Mark-NC on January 18, 2012 3:24 PM:

    I understand the frustration of the Republicans. After three years of continuous lying, they haven't managed to get the sheeple to buy their "version" of reality.

    This could be a first for the country!

  • Cybrguy on January 18, 2012 3:33 PM:

    "and yet, Romney polls within spitting distance of Obama if the general were held today."

    It is WAY too early for people to be worrying about this polling parity. Folks need to understand that all of the electoral attention has been on the rethugs due to their primaries and buffoonery. All that free publicly keeps the attention on them, and as all rethugs believe "any attention is good attention", it has been working for them.
    As the REAL campaign for President resumes, and The President clarifies and amplifies his positions, the polls will quickly and surely change. America wants progress, and all the rethugs offer is more anger and division and policies that have proven to be destructive to the national wellbeing.

    Take heart Dems, the real campaign cometh...

  • T2 on January 18, 2012 3:44 PM:

    the guy I referenced above is Steve Israel (D-NY). Excellent job countering the "both sides" crap of The Andrea.

  • DAY on January 18, 2012 3:46 PM:

    In advertising the message needs to be repeated ad infinitum before it is "heard".
    Think about the Geiko, et al commercials.
    In politics that translates into Name Recognition- "I guess so-and-so is the front runner; I keep hearing about him on the TeeVee."

    It is the same reason why the guy with the most yard signs wins.
    Unless you are a political junky, the first time you saw any of the names on the down ticket ballot was when you stepped into the voting booth.

  • Danp on January 18, 2012 3:53 PM:

    Good for Steve Israel. I hope MSNBC replays that often, so I can see it. I have little tolerance for cable news these days. Thanks T2.

  • Michael on January 18, 2012 4:10 PM:

    Every time I've mentioned this in months passed, there's an uptick in angry emails from Republicans who simply don't believe the polls on this.

    And with that, Pauline Kael turns over in her grave and orders some more of those delightful little finger sandwiches. We have crossed the rubicon

    "How could Nixon have won/Obama be popular? Nobody I know voted for/likes him"

  • Socko80 on January 18, 2012 4:13 PM:

    “This may not matter, at least far as electoral considerations are concerned. Americans were inclined to blame Bush for the economy in 2010, too, and if memory serves, GOP candidates did pretty well anyway. Voters may well conclude that Obama isn’t to blame for the mess, but they’re not satisfied with the speed with which he’s cleaning it up.”


    Man, Steve Benen. Sometimes you sound like that always a “Debbie Downer” Greg Sargent. Midterm elections are BASE elections. Midterm elections aren’t decided by swing voters who usually stay home. A lot of unenthusiastic democrats, and young voters, etc., stayed home in 2010, while historically “fired-up,” old, white, republicans voted in droves in 2010. Base voters will matter in 2012, but swing voters will decide the 2012 presidential election. The latest 2012 polls show republican voter enthusiasm is on the wane, while democratic voter enthusiasm on the rise, with democrats closing the gap.

  • MNRD on January 18, 2012 4:37 PM:

    The link between Romney and the Congressional Republicans is more important than the link between Romney and Bush - because appeals linked to the present and the future create a greater sense of urgency than appeals linked to the past.

    It's important to emphasize the fact that Romney has strongly encouraged Congressional Republicans to double-down on their extreme obstructionism. When Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee he HELPED President Bush to cope with the financial crisis - he worked TOGETHER with President Bush during that crisis for the sake of the nation. Candidate Obama placed country above partisanship. In a similar circumstance, Candidate Romney has consistently placed partisanship above country.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on January 18, 2012 4:41 PM:

    Socko80: Thank you! Let's spam every comment thread after Benen says stuff like this until he does better. :)

  • Sickneffintired on January 18, 2012 4:44 PM:

    Oh oh looks like steve s computer is down. I am in a stupid meeting and bored

  • SYSPROG on January 18, 2012 4:57 PM:

    Steve Israel is great and is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He knows how to push back and he knows what he's talking about. As far as the blame game goes, Republicans think time began when Obama was elected. All the country's problems were still there but they were not responsible for any of it. If it was bad under Bush, it was WORSE under Obama. If it was a trend for the last three decades, it was Obama's fault. They have determined that all 'libruls' are evil and women have no place in the government. The poor are inconvenient and the middle class should get jobs at McDonald's and quit whining.

  • Doug on January 18, 2012 7:09 PM:

    Socko80 and Equal Opportunity Cynic have a very valid point about the results of the 2010 election being a result of base turnout.
    There is, however, also the fact the Republicans LIED during the 2010 campaign. Republicans campaigned on the promise of reducing unemployment, claiming that President Obama's stimulus hadn't worked, the latter a completely false allegation. Unfortunately, neither the MSM nor the electorate bothered to ask "If not another stimulus, HOW are you going to reduce unemployment?" Perhaps that very question from being asked was the reason some people arrived armed at political meetings...
    The Republican base has willingly accepted the GOP's whining about "regulations" and "uncertainty" as being the cause of the continuing high rate of unemployment, but thankfully it doesn't seem to be reaching the majority of citizens/voters. So I'll repeat something that should be shouted from the rooftops:
    Where are the JOBS, Speaker Boehner?

  • Citizen Alan on January 18, 2012 7:45 PM:

    Google "27% crazification factor."

  • Texas Aggie on January 18, 2012 7:57 PM:

    I wish that the poll asking about who was to blame for the economy had expanded their options to include Democratic/republican congressmen/senators. I would bet that a fair number of people realize that Obama is severely restricted in what he can do by the opposition of the right wingnuts. So while they may have answered that Bush was responsible for the present situation, if they had the opportunity, I suspect that they would have preferred to answer the republican congressmen/senators.

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