Of all the numbers in the ABC News/Washington Post poll last week that brought bad news to the White House, the one that surprised some senior White House officials the most was the one measuring what voters see as the president’s empathy.
How much a president “understands the problems of people like you” is a key barometer for a president, and in this poll, fewer than 50 percent of respondents said President Obama understands their problems. Forty-nine percent said he understood the problems of people like them, 49 percent disagreed.
Senior White House officials say other polling they have seen on the president’s perceived “empathy” does not square with these numbers, and they agree it’s something to keep an eye on.
As well they should; Republicans are seizing on recent comments President Obama has made to paint him as out of touch.
A couple of remarks GOPers have seized upon:
Most recently, on Monday, at a meeting of his Jobs and Competitiveness Council in North Carolina, President Obama was asked about the delays in the permitting process for stimulus jobs.
“Shovel-ready was not as shovel ready as we expected,” the president said, as the head of his council, Jeffrey Immelt of GE, chuckled exuberantly.
The president said something similar last October in an interview with the New York Times, ... [b]ut this time the remarks were made in front of a camera and came with a presidential smirk and some background chuckles.
President Obama's job approval rating averaged 46% for the week ending June 12, a significant decline from his weekly averages for most of May and nearly back to the level before Osama bin Laden's death on May 1.
Thus, it appears the sustained rally in support for the president after the death of the Sept. 11 terror mastermind is largely over. The drop in Obama's approval rating coincides with an increase in Americans' pessimism about the economy. Economic confidence also increased after bin Laden's death but began to decline early this month, perhaps due to reports of anemic job growth and concerns about the slow pace of economic recovery.
Among partisan groups, independents' approval rating of Obama dropped the most in the past week, from 47% to 42%, with a smaller decline among Democrats. Republicans' approval of Obama spiked to 21% during the first week after bin Laden's death from 10% in late April, before falling back to the 15% range, where it has held since.
At the Weekly Standard, Jay Cost talks about the president's efforts to shore up his standing:
It will do no good. The president can visit as many green companies as he likes. His team can put out as many strategy videos as it likes. It can organize its ground game in Virginia all day and all night. None of this is going to change the fundamentals of this upcoming election, which are:
1. The economy is substantially weaker for Obama than for other previous presidents who won reelection.
2. The deficit is now substantially higher than before.
3. His major domestic reform--Obamacare--is substantially more unpopular.
4. The American people are substantially more pessimistic.
That's the state of the nation at this point. Nothing the Obama campaign can do at this point will affect any of these fundamentals--the hope is that its efforts will alter the public's perceptions of these fundamentals, but it won't. If we've learned anything in the last 50 years of the modern campaign, it's that the billion dollar efforts of campaign technocrats, who now dominate our politics, cannot convince people that the sun rises in the west.