If President Barack Obama thought he could escape blame and criticism from the American public over the government shutdown, he was wrong; a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday evening, Oct. 30, 2013 determined that Americans have their lowest view of the President since he is been in office. The new poll looked at the President and Congress’s ratings, and was a post shutdown snapshot of the public’s opinion. The recent shutdown might have also been behind the main reasoning for President Obama to also lose his status as Forbes’ “World’s Most Powerful.”
President Obama’s approval rating according to the NBC/WSJ poll sits at 42 percent, the lowest in his presidency and five points lower than the approval rating he had had only at the beginning of October. Also nearly reaching a milestone is the President’s disapproval rating, tying for an all- time high at 51 percent. The President thought by mounting a public relations blitz blaming the Republicans entirely the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis he could stave off blame and the fallout, well this poll proved him wrong.
Americans are not just having a problem with Obama’s job performance, but also their personal opinion of him. Only 41 percent view him favorably with 45 percent “viewing him negatively.” It is the first time that Americans view the President more unfavorably than favorably.
While the shutdown did not help Obama in the minds of Americans with 41 percent having a “less favorable impression view” of the President versus 21 percent who said they have a “more favorable” view of Obama since the shutdown.
Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who co-conducted the survey concluded that “Personally and politically, the public’s assessment is two thumbs down.”
NBC/WSJ believes the tumble has less to do with one defining issue, but an amalgamation. Everything has been going wrong for Obama since the beginning of the summer. The revelation of the extent of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program, compounded by Obama handling of the Syria crisis, the government shutdown, and the disastrous rollout of the President’s must hyped 2010 signed, landmark health care law, the Affordable Care Act, who insurance purchasing website has been filled with major technical problems, and a nightmare usability.
Obama is really feeling the second-term curse, where all the first term secrets and problems come back to truly haunt and plague a president, hence the reason most scandals are revealed in a second term. Of course the lack of accountability, necessary for running a reelection is also missing and is leading those second term ills.
The NBC/WSJ poll though is equally bad news for Republicans who also broke polling records with the lows they reached. The Republicans’ favorability rating sunk to new lows, with only 22 percent of Americans viewing them favorably, while an overwhelming majority of 53 percent of the public views them unfavorably.
That unfavorable view only increased with the government shutdown with 53 percent viewing then unfavorably since the shutdown to only a small number at nine percent viewing the GOP more favorably since the crises. The Tea Party fared just a little better with “45 percent to 12 percent” viewing them more unfavorably than favorably since the shutdown, even though the President blamed them the most for the shutdown the debt ceiling crisis.
Despite the drop in President Obama’s approval rating, Americans still cast the brunt of the blame for the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis on the Republican Congress. Republicans are most blamed with 38 percent of the vote, followed by 36 percent of Americans that blame Congress in general, both the Democrats and Republicans. The number eases up on Obama, who only receives 23 percent of the blame.
Democrats though have very little to rejoice from the poll, although they were spared throughout the actual crisis, in retrospect they are sharing the blame with Republicans, because Americans are viewing Congress as a whole as the problem. Three of the Congressional leaders; “House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell” have larger unfavorable views than favorable ones. An overwhelming majority at 74 percent believe Congress is the root cause of the country’s problems, while 63 percent of Americans want to replace their Congressional member in the 2014 midterm elections.
While the President’s efforts to use the government shutdown as a campaign ploy to help the Democrats regain the House in the 2014 midterm elections does not look like it will have much of an impact. When NBC/WSJ asked Americans their preference to win a majority and control Congress in next year’s election there was only a 4 percent difference between both parties; 45 percent to 41 percent with the Democrats having a weak advantage. In NBC/WSJ’s last poll the Democrats had double the advantage.
The NBC/WSJ poll was not the President’s only bad news on Wednesday; Forbes released on the same day their World’s Most Powerful list, and determined the President no longer merits the top spot. When Forbes asked themselves “Who’s more powerful: the autocratic leader of a former superpower or the handcuffed commander in chief of the most dominant country in the world?” they determined their answer was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who dethroned Obama. This not the first time in his Presidency however that Obama has not topped Forbes list; in 2010 China’s former president Hu Jintaow was in command of China and headed the list.
In citing the reason for the drop, Forbes claimed the recent government shutdown sealed the deal, but also the Syria crisis, and NSA’s surveillance program. Forbes claimed; “Putin has solidified his control over Russia while Obama’s lame duck period has seemingly set in earlier than usual for a two-term president – latest example: the government shutdown mess. Anyone watching this year’s chess match over Syria and NSA leaks has a clear idea of the shifting individual power dynamics.”
President Obama wanted desperately to be the opposite of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, he spent his campaigns and most of his first term blaming Bush for the country’s problems and distinguishing himself from him. Ushered into the Presidency as “change,” Obama’s presidency has hardly been the transparent and bipartisan Washington utopia he promised, but rather a darker, version of the status quo. Obama is discovering it is not so easy to prevent or escape problems that are on such a countrywide scale, and learning that it is so easy with a wrong step to end up in the same place as the one he tried so hard not to be.
Obama even started facing a declining approval rating like Bush did at the same time in their presidencies. Lesson, the more you try not to be your predecessor, the more they come back to haunt you. President Obama might not have the same set of problems that Bush had to lead him to his unpopularity, but faced with his own set of issues, Obama might learn to understand the entrapment of the presidency, that Bush knew so well.
- Read the Full NBC News/WSJ Poll (PDF), Oct. 30, 2013
- Full Coverage of Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful People, Oct. 30, 2013
- Full List of Forbes’ 72 Power Players, Oct. 30, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.