The Limits of Presidential Popularity

I attended today’s “Progressives and the National Debt” special presentation of the Center for American Progress and The Center on Budget Policy Priorities. Very good speakers and strong discussion, but I wanted to comment on one particular ill considered line of argument made by Charlie Cook.

Cook began his comments by going over President Obama’s approval rating over the course of this year and proceeded to suggest that positive ratings among moderates gave Presidents their “mojo” in terms of enacting his agenda. Obama before Memorial Day=lots of Mojo, Obama after Labor Day= less Mojo.

This is just a simplistic way to look at things. All else being equal popularity among moderates would be important to passing your agenda, but it’s really not that hard to see there are other factors playing a much bigger role. Obama was broadly popular when he pushed through the stimulus and it didn’t buy him hardly any GOP votes, nor did it keep Senate moderates from wanting to distance themselves from Obama by pursuing cuts to the size of the stimulus and other changes. Similarly, I doubt any Senator would be especially keen to swing their vote in favor of Health Care reform because a national poll said Obama was more popular.

What’s popular today might not be popular tomorrow and additionally what’s popular nationally might not be popular in their State or District. Anybody seriously thinking about getting re-elected thinks about this stuff, but it’s not reflected in the ‘CNN worldview’ where every little hiccup in the National mood is considered a momentous event worthy of hours of discussion.

Not to suggest polling isn’t important, but everybody knows you’re trying predict tomorrow’s poll numbers not yesterday’s. If some politicians think bucking the trend today is the right strategy to help them in their next election they’ll do it and all the media contrived political capital in world won’t matter.


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