Why Obama Has to Worry About Polls

by Michael Scherer
Time
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

George W. Bush used to insist that he didn’t read polls, and on the off chance that he did, he didn’t care anyway. “I don’t give a darn,” the former President famously said early this year just before the end of his term, when CNN’s Larry King pointed to his anemic approval ratings.

Aides to President Obama, by contrast, have charted a more nuanced course, alternately embracing and dismissing the polls. During a recent meeting with reporters, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs compared the President’s daily approval ratings to a heart monitor, saying, “I don’t put a lot of stake in, never have, in the EKG that is the daily Gallup trend.” By contrast, senior aide David Axelrod often mentions poll numbers, on everything from the rising international reputation of the United States to the resilience of Obama’s personal likability numbers. “Every poll I’ve seen suggests that even among those who don’t support necessarily his policies, there is a warm feeling,” said Axelrod, in a recent interview with U.S. News.

For much of this year, such poll talk was not much of a factor, as the results generally followed the typical pattern of first-term presidencies, with a strong honeymoon period that slowly petered out. But as Obama approaches the first year mark of his presidency, Democratic and Republican strategists are beginning to look more closely at the polls. Here’s why:

1. Congress cares about polls.
Obama’s success depends upon his ability to get Congress to do his bidding, and as the polls have soured, this has become a much tougher proposition. With the President’s approval rating now dipping below 50% in most polls, Democratic pollsters have begun to sound the alarm. In a recent public memo, Celinda Lake, of Lake Research Partners, pointed to a sobering statistic: Presidents with approval ratings below 50% have lost an average of 41 House seats in mid-term elections. (Democrats currently have an 81-seat advantage in the House, so Republicans could gain control of the chamber with a 41-seat pick-up in 2010.) To make matters worse, Republicans now win the generic Congressional ballot by two points, the first time the GOP has outstripped Democrats since January of 2002, according to the George Washington University Battleground Poll…

The article continues with four more points at Time magazine.

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