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Obama’s Partisan Problem

News & Features | October 10, 2011

President Obama has been criticized in the past—more than once—for his lack of strong stances on various issues. While Obama branded himself as someone trying to “reach across the aisle,” critics often hammered him, saying he was trying so hard not to upset anyone that he was doing nothing of note. No one is saying that now; Obama certainly has made some big partisan moves in the past few weeks and months. But these moves haven’t gotten him much approval. His numbers in the polls are falling, and are now at an all-time low.
The latest Gallup poll, as of September 30th, shows that our president has an approval rating of 39% and a disapproval rating of 52%. His approval rating dropped little by little over the course of this summer, as he dealt with deficit concerns and unemployment issues. Now, two of the president’s recent plans—those for creating jobs and for filling the deficit—have seen his approval drop even further.
Interestingly, the Gallup poll shows that Obama’s job plan itself has a large base of supporters. 53% of Republican voters favor eliminating certain tax deductions on large corporations to help pay for the new jobs, and 41% of Republican voters favor increasing income tax on people earning over $200,000 a year. The Democratic approval ratings on these proposals are 86% and 85%, respectively. These seem like high numbers, especially from the Republicans, who have long shown disapproval for Obama. Many economists are also behind Obama’s plan, saying that it could “help prevent a 2012 recession,” according to a survey from Bloomberg News.
Where things get a little shakier is in discussion of Obama’s other new plan, the plan for deficit reduction. The president has announced that he plans to cut deficits by $4.4 trillion in the next decade, beginning with some cuts to entitlements and discretionary spending—and adding many new taxes for the wealthiest people in America. Whereas earlier this summer, Obama and Speaker Boehner were discussing a “grand bargain,” a sort of compromise deficit-reduction plan, the president has now gone ahead and proposed his own plan emphasizing taxes on the very wealthy. He has also said that if Congress wants to cut any health care benefits to help the deficit, they must raise taxes on the wealthy as well, or face a presidential veto.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that many of Obama’s opponents are strongly opposed to his deficit-reduction plan. He has been accused of being in “political class warfare mode” by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, whose own plan for reducing deficit and spending was to turn Medicare into a voucher system. Obama expressed his disdain for this idea, saying, “I’m not going to allow [our need to reduce health care costs] to be an excuse for turning Medicare into a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry.”
It seems as though our president is facing attacks on multiple fronts and has decided that the best defense is a good offense. In the past, his attitude has notoriously been one of compromise. In fact, earlier this year, Obama said he would consider raising the Medicare eligibility age to cut costs, which would have been a big compromise with the GOP. His new proposal, though, has no such age raise. In the face of a Republican Congress, the president has started sticking to his liberal guns more and more.
So why are his approval ratings falling? Maybe because, when you stop trying to please everyone, someone is going to end up unhappy. “Obama is causing class warfare,” opponents are saying, or, “Obama is losing himself the Jewish vote.” But if the president believes taxing the rich is the best way to fix the deficit and that alliance with Israel doesn’t mean supporting their every action, then he is simply acting on these beliefs.
The country elected Obama in part because the confidence he had throughout his campaign helped voters to believe in him as well. Now, with another election drawing near, voters’ confidence is badly shaken, and this is reflected in the low approval ratings. But while 39% approval is far from ideal, Obama should at least be commended for taking a strong stance—or stances. Maintaining his strength and composure in the face of much opposition is impressive, and the president doubtless hopes that voters will recognize this and remember the self-confidence that was so inspiring the first time around.