Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Daily Strike-9/1/09-Polling

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Happy September, it's going to be an extremely consequential month for the President.

THE POLLING LOOP: I'm always curious how conventional wisdom takes hold. It's pretty mystifying to me. For example, every media outlet I read right now says that Barack Obama had a disastrous month of August and lost significant ground in the effort to enact health reform. The approval polls seem to back up this thesis. Obama has lost about 8-10 points over the last month or so in the two daily tracking surveys, Republican-leaning Rasmussen and Gallup. But how did people's assessments change so quickly? Nothing has actually happened in August. Health care reform wasn't passed, nor did it come close to passing. No external events (excluding Ted Kennedy's death) really pervaded the news cycle. The real news was that a bunch of Congressional Democrats got shouted down at a bunch of town hall meetings by an angry, organized right-wing opposition, a group that clearly already opposed President Obama. How did this happen? I believe part of it is a natural correction that occurs when a President pursues something ambitious. People are anxious about transformational change, and political opponents seize on that energy. But a large part of the decline, I think, can be explained by the the polling loop. Here's how it works:

1. Town hall attendees go crazy and get on the news, people start to wonder what they're getting so riled up about, and become naturally skeptical about what's going on in Washington. This happens most with people who aren't very political, frequently political independents.

2. Approval starts to go down a couple of points because of these people, and certain media outlets gleefully report it, especially the Drudge Report, which will have a giant banner headline every time Obama hits a new low. Politico.com loves to write stories about how Obama has lost popularity. Prognosticators like Charlie Cook try to grab headlines by saying that the Democrats may lose double digit seat in an election that is 14 months away.

3. People, in turn, become more skeptical about what's going on in Washington, and the bad poll numbers become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The power of public opinion may only affect a small amount of people, but that amount is enough to really dent Obama's approval numbers. How to overcome this cycle, you might ask? Deliver. The thing that improves approval ratings the most is a Rose Garden ceremony signing a piece of legislation that makes life better for average Americans. The message for Congressional Democrats is not to cower in the face of these numbers. If they interpret them as the public not being ready for transformational change, and they choose to water legislation down or do nothing, they will pay a huge political price in 2010.

That's it for today (a slow news day, as you can see. I didn't want to talk about the Swine Flu). See you tomorrow night! Off to watch the Giants/Phillies game.

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