Our Prom King President

British essayist Walter Bagehot once wrote, “Public opinion is a permeating influence, and it exacts obedience to itself; it requires us to think other men’s thoughts, to speak other men’s words, to follow other men’s habits.”

Or, as Abe Lincoln put it more succinctly about the U.S., “Public opinion in this country is everything.” 

If Lincoln is right, then Barack Obama, “the man who would be Lincoln,” has reason to be uneasy.  Just six months into his presidency, polls show dwindling support for Obama’s policies, and significant push back against his administration’s incontinent spending.  But public apprehension may only deepen Obama’s resolve to turn American into a European-style socialist welfare state.

President Obama remains personally popular.  Obama “Yes We Can!” T-shirts are still fashionable, and the president is even popping up as a super hero in comic books.  Most comedians still won’t touch him.

But a president’s personal popularity counts only until people’s lives are affected by his policies. As experienced pollster Kellyanne Conway put it in an interview with this column, “[Obama] is president not prom king.” 

If you’re out of a job and a government bureaucrat is telling your doctor what medication to prescribe you, it doesn’t much matter that the person responsible can knock down a fifteen-foot jumper or that he takes his wife out on romantic date nights.

Conway, president of The Polling Company, inc./WomanTrend, has noticed that each time Obama addresses an issue, “his popularity on that issue declines.  Whether it’s the stimulus, TARP, energy or health care, the more the public hears from the president, the less they like his proposals.”

The bad news for Obama came in a Gallup/USA Today poll this week placing his six-month public approval number 10th among the 12 presidents who have served since World War II.  According to the poll, 55 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama’s done, while 41 disapprove. 

Since Inauguration Day, Obama’s overall approval rating has dropped 9 percentage points, while his disapproval rate has jumped 16 points.  At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush enjoyed a 55 to 35 percent margin.

Also this week, a Public Trust Monitor/Politico poll found that Obama no longer engenders the same level of trust among many Americans.  In March, 66 percent of respondents said they trusted the president.  That number has dropped to 54 percent. 

Driving the public’s increasing dissatisfaction with Obama is its increasing skepticism about his plans to put the country even further into debt by having the federal government take over the health care sector, which constitutes about 15 percent of our economy.  

In his Wednesday press conference, President Obama said that the “stars are aligned” for health care reform and that “we need to take advantage of that.”  Sadly for Obama, public opinion is also aligning, only in opposition to state-run health care.

According to the Washington Post, “[s]ince April, approval of Obama’s handling of health care has dropped from 57 percent to 49 percent, with disapproval rising from 29 percent to 44 percent.

Conway believes the disapproval numbers are most significant, because they suggest many Americans are no longer “fence sitters or giving him the benefit of the doubt.” It seems that as the reality of Obama’s spending plans becomes more graphic, fewer Americans are willing to take a wait-and-see approach.  Another Gallup/USA Today poll finds 59 percent of Americans say Obama’s proposals call for too much government spending. 

Polls also show that independents are abandoning the president, with a majority more likely to disapprove than to approve of Obama’s handling of health care. 

In the Gallup poll, 60 percent of independents felt Obama’s proposals “call for too much government expansion” and 66 percent felt they “call for too much spending.”  Only 1 in 10 independents thinks Obama is doing or spending too little. 

Conway says political independents typically abhor partisan politics and can be easily put off by “politics as usual.”  Obama, says Conway, “has shown himself to be a typical tax and spend liberal.  He’s no longer defined by ideas like change and opportunity but by drastic revolution.” 

Conway believes many voters who currently describe themselves as political independents are actually Republicans who left the party disillusioned with its Democrat-lite agenda but are coming together, if only in opposition to the Democrats’ overspending.   

Even many Democrats are pushing back against the health care proposals of President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

The New York Times reports that the nation’s governors, including many Democrats, are openly objecting to what they are seeing in the proposed health care legislation and about possibly having to pick up the tab.  There is also significant opposition from moderate Democrats in Congress.  And Gallup found that even 28 percent of self-identified Democrats felt Obama’s policy proposals “call for too much spending,” while just 17 percent of Democrats felt they “call for too little spending.”