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New Polling On Obama

The political story of the day is two new polls showing that public support for President Obama's agenda trails support for him in general. The New York Times writes:

A distinct gulf exists between Mr. Obama’s overall standing and how some of his key initiatives are viewed, with fewer than half of Americans saying they approve of how he has handled health care and the effort to save General Motors and Chrysler.

There's also a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, of which NBC writes:

Obama remains a popular figure in the poll. But these numbers on the deficit and the government’s intervention seem to mark a new period for the administration, as the public moves from welcoming his inauguration and first days in office to examining his initial actions as president.

Having read both polls, I agree that Obama faces some real danger here. But the picture is slightly less dire. Marc Ambinder notes:

There has always been a gap between Obama's personal popularity -- as Chuck Todd points out -- and support for some of his policies. But take a look at which policies are unpopular: the bailout of the auto industry and deficit spending -- policies that the public still associates with Republican excesses, not with Obama's.

Ambinder has a really smart overall take -- much more interesting than mine, to be honest -- and you should read it in its entirety.

I'd add a few thoughts on health care, because that -- unlike the auto bailout -- is the centerpiece of Obama's domestic agenda. In the New York Times/CBS poll, Obama's overall job approval rating is 63/26. On health care, the approval breakdown is 44/34, with 22% saying they don't know. So it's more an issue of public apathy or lack of knowledge than actual disapproval. And the numbers suggest that virtually all the people who aren't sure what to think of Obama's health care plan like him and approve of his overall performance. Thus he has a receptive audience to make his case.

Obviously, if you're president, it's better to have the public approve of you overall and approve of your plan. But having a public that likes your plan but not you is no picnic, either. That's the situation Bill Clinton faced throughout much of 1993 and 1994. In June of 1993, Clinton's approval rating had fallen to 43%. The public actually liked the details of his health care plan when they were asked about them, but disapproved of the "Clinton health care plan" because they didn't like Clinton. Clinton's growing inability to be a trustworthy messenger for his plab was a major impediment. Right now Obama doesn't have that problem.

Like Ambinder notes, there are some real potential landmines out there for the Democrats. But Obama's popularity isa formidable weapon.

--Jonathan Chait

Click here to read Linda Hirshman on why the pollsters are wrong.

Click here to read William Galston on the polls.