Out of Control Policy Blog

What's Behind Obama's Falling Poll Numbers

American Enterprise Institute president Arthur C. Brooks analyzes President Obama's poll numbers in the Wall Street Journal, arguing persuasively that the current Democratic Leadership is fundamentally misreading the American public.

The core of his argument (I believe) is here:

"Blaming a cabal of conspirators—a time-honored technique for leaders on the wrong side of public opinion—is paranoid and self-defeating. More importantly, it betrays a tin ear to the culture of most Americans—an independent, optimistic culture that is mistrustful of government nannying and intolerant of policies that mortgage our future.

"Consider the evidence. Despite the vote in November, it is clear that when Americans are not in an abject panic, we dislike government fiscal promiscuity. The president's sinking approval ratings are due precisely to his administration's free-spending ways. In a July 2009 Gallup poll, the No. 1 reason for disapproval of the president's economic policies was, literally, "spending too much." In second place was the worry that the president is "leading the nation toward socialism" through government takeovers and bailouts.

"What exactly is our problem with government spending? It is not just that we think it is wasteful and ineffective (although most recognize this to be true). Americans actually think the government makes it harder for people to get ahead in life."

I increasingly believe that what is playing out in D.C. is a fight for the political soul of American government. President Obama clearly stands for the populist progressive wing and its naive faith in government as protector and guaranteer of the public interest. He and others in leadership positions, however, seem to have forgotten that they won the national election with a slim majority, not a concensus: 52 percent does not a painless revolution make.

I believe Dr. Brooks is right: A substantial plurality, perhaps even still a majority, believe that a future of opportunity is preferable to a stagnant one that equalizes outcomes. Market economies deliver on the promise of opportunity far better than those under the highly regulating hands of populist progressives.

Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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