The cheerleaders have put away their pompoms.
Two new polls that take measure of President Obama confirm what I warned about last April: The president and his ambitious programs face a big push back if they deepen deficit spending.
I came to that conclusion after studying the results of a the early spring NYTimes/CBS poll on the nascent Obama presidency: At the time, the Times focused on the president’s impressive popularity. But I felt that the interpretation dismissed or ignored data signaling big legislative battles ahead for Obama and his aggressive agenda. Two months later a new NYTimes/CBS poll as well as a bipartisan poll from The Wall Street Journal/NBC focus on Obama’s deficit problems rather than on his popularity.
Today’s Times analysis drops the cheery take on the numbers it assumed in April and notes the mounting concern for deficit spending:
The poll highlights the political and governing challenges on the horizon for Mr. Obama, including the towering federal budget deficit, which is expected to push the national debt to levels that many economists say could threaten the economy’s long-term vitality. Six in 10 people surveyed (my emphasis) said the administration has yet to develop a clear plan for dealing with the deficit, including 65 percent of independents.
Back in April, the Times had given little weight to the 63% of those surveyed who said they were concerned the deficit would saddle future generations with too much debt. Now the current poll reveals an important new area of concern for deficit spending: the economy. Back in April, respondents were in a statistical heat on whether to improve the economy by deepening the deficit or slashing the deficit to improve the economy: 46% vs 45%. Now the opinion divide has widened to a noteworthy 52% vs 41%.
The WSJ analysis mirrors the shift in sentiment in the NYTimes poll:
After a fairly smooth opening, President Barack Obama faces new concerns among the American public about the budget deficit and government intervention in the economy as he works to enact ambitious health and energy legislation, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.
These rising doubts threaten to overshadow the president’s personal popularity and his agenda, in what may be a new phase of the Obama presidency.
“The public is really moving from evaluating him as a charismatic and charming leader to his specific handling of the challenges facing the country,” says Peter D. Hart, a Democratic pollster who conducts the survey with Republican Bill McInturff. Going forward, he says, Mr. Obama and his allies “are going to have to navigate in pretty choppy waters.”
For now, the public still overwhelming supports Obama — 56% in this poll, down from 61% in April. He gets good marks on the economy, with a 46% approval. And equally important, 46% still blame the Bush administration for the current deficits. But 58% say the president and Congress must focus on limiting the budget. And nearly seven in 10 expressed concern about government intervening in the economy.