Saturday, August 1, 2009

Reflections from Down Under, President Obama -- Happy to See July End

Back from Australia
I made the long return trip from Australia last night (actually over about 30 hours prior to Friday night.) It was primarily a business trip, but I can't go two weeks without discussing politics, so I thought I'd share some observations:
* Australia is about the most pro-American country on the globe...they like us, but definitely like Obama better than Bush.
* Australia has a model private/public health insurance model -- a basic policy that is publicly funded and more generous private policies. Everyone there seems to love their model and can't understand why we can't do something similar.
* The Aussie economy is in great shape relative to the globe's. This appears to be in large measure to their lack of globalization -- your Aussie souvenir T-shirts are made in Australia as are the rental cars you drive.
* I need to go back when I can be a tourist -- the wildlife and culture are amazing there

President Obama's Awful Month of July
In my opinion, July has been by far the worst month of President Obama's term so far. His poll numbers show declines and with good reason. In July, we saw health care reform stall in both houses of congress, the June unemployment report show a 25-year high 9.5% unemployment and the stimulus bill coming under fire. Then, the normally buttoned-up and polished President stepped deep into the dog doo with the "acted stupidly" remark. All-in-all, not so good.

In the long view, it wasn't a total disaster. Sonia Sotomayor is still a lock for confirmation, with 7 GOP senators already announcing support and no Dems dissenting at this point, the stimulus is starting to get rolling at a faster pace and the prospects for economic improvement are getting better.

But lower poll numbers definitely mean less political capital and the President is going to need a lot of that to get health care and energy policy implemented. Prospects look tough, but not completely zero with control of both houses of congress still firmly in the hands of a Democratic party, although the Blue Dogs still don't appear aligned with the leadership on these issues.

The latest tracking of our composite of non-partisan polls is below:
At 15.5% overall approve-disapprove, President Obama is at the lowest mark of his Presidency, but still ahead of his 7.2% margin in last November's election. A breakdown by poll type is below:
Adult Americans: +19%
Registered Voters: +16%
Likely Voters: +7%

According to the likely voter polling, if an election were held today, it would look a lot like it did last November. For the first time in this administration, we have more than 1 likely voter poll. The Rasmussen Poll had been the only LV poll available and it had consistently shown far lower numbers than the others (it shows Obama at +1% today.) Now we have polls from GWU/Battleground and NPR that both show Obama at +11%, which indicates to me that there are either sample problems with the Rasmussen poll, or with everyone else. All the more reason to use aggregate numbers that average out the disparate methodologies.

President Obama's by-month numbers look as follows:

President Obama finished July with a +19.5% average, his lowest number yet (each successive month has been lower than the last so far.) July's drop, at 7.4%, is his second-largest drop, with an 8.4% decline in March being the largest. But March was while the "first 100 days" shine was still coming off. We are into a more steady-state now and losing 7.4% is a bad, bad month. A couple more like this and we will be talking about an unpopular President.

Policy Updates
(1) Economic Stimulus
As of this week's release:
Authorized: $191.9 billion (38.5%)
Spent: $70.2 billion (14.1%)

This puts average weekly spending since the stimulus bill was signed February 17th at just under $3 billion. At this pace, it would take over 3 years to exhaust the stimulus. Clearly, the pace needs to pick-up. I still believe the benchmark is 40% spent by year-end. We appear to be behind schedule to hit that mark. Benchmark Transportation spending has crossed $900 million (I'm sure you've seen some signs about projects funded by the act, as I have), but is still behind where it will need to be to create a number of jobs that will have a real impact.

The legislative part of this is done, this is about executive execution. Let's get moving, cabinet heads!

(2) Energy Policy / Cap and Trade
Still stalled in the Senate. No vote scheduled.

(3) Healthcare
Moved beyond the August recess. Just barely passed out of the House committee and both houses of congress appear poised to debate the issue in September. It appears that there is some hope for a fragile majority in both houses, which could provide for a narrow passage if Democrats employ reconciliation to stifle a fillibuster attempt in the Senate. Blue Dogs in the House and moderates like Ben Nelson (D-NE) hold the keys in the Senate.

Upcoming....Some Actual Election Predictions
Congress is headed to recess, so in my next blog, I'll take a look at the latest numbers for the 2010 mid-terms as well as the far-out hypotheticals in 2012.

Thanks for bearing with me during my long trip out of town and thanks as always for reading.

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