Saturday, March 13, 2010

Obama Approval: Turning Point, Bottoming Out or Still Declining?, Health Care Vote Next Weekend?

Has the President Turned a Corner, Jumped Off a Cliff or Opened a Parachute?
The President's latest approval numbers are intriguing, to say the least. In the past two weeks, his daily numbers have bounced around but in the last few days are sitting below both his averages for every month this year and for the month-to-date in March. However, his numbers from earlier in March were somewhat higher than any of his averages from the prior two months.

Looking at the monthly data, a little less than half way through the month of March, the President is on track to post his first monthly approval gain of his Presidency, with a monthly approve minus disapprove of +3.8% versus +2.3% in February.

These are small moves, to be sure. The President has essentially been in a range of 0% to +5% since the start of the new year, reflecting an electorate closely divided. So, with such small movements, it is extremely difficult to tell what is trend and what is polling noise.

I see three plausible scenarios here:
(1) The President has turned a corner
The noted tone changes in the President's approach: getting more aggressive on health care, attacking the insurance industry and becoming much more involved in getting legislation passed is resonating with the public. His bi-partisan health care summit revealed to voters that he is willing to work with the GOP, but that they are not playing ball.

Future prognosis under this scenario: His numbers continue to slowly rise, at least to the level of his 2008 election victory.

(2) The President has stabilized
The more conservative half of the country dislikes his left-of-center policies. The more liberal half of the country likes them. People have chosen sides.

Prognosis: A lot more time around the zero line

(3) This is just noise -- he'll be down by the time March ends
He had a few good days thanks to some poll-sampling noise and will be looking at a continued slide.

Prognosis: Another 1 to 2% loss in March, then negative territory in April.

Which one is true? Depends on how you read the poll numbers. I tend to believe the center scenario (#2), although what happens with health care reform and unemployment over the next two months could swing he scenario either way.

Health Care Showdown Next Weekend?
The President has delayed his trip to Indonesia, cancelled plans to take his family and Nancy Pelosi says the House vote could very well take place a week from today.

Let's break down all the dynamics:

First, let's look at the math. It is pretty clear that the bill will get zero votes from the House GOP. With current vacancies, the DEMs need 216 votes in the House for passage. They control 254 seats. So, the easiest way to count votes is to look at Democrats who might oppose the bill and see if it totals 39.

(1) The CBO Report
Leader Pelosi has promised members one week to review the legislation after the CBO report comes out. That would require the report to come out today for the vote to take place a week from today. If the report comes out Monday, will members let her get away with 5 days? I do know that would become GOP talking point #1 if she backtracks on that promise.

(2) The Stupak Democrats
This wing of pro-life Dems is dissatisfied with the Senate language. It is hard to know the exact number of Democrats who would vote against a bill because of the Senate abortion language, but my best estimate is that there are approximately 27 pro-life Democrats who voted for the bill the first time around.

(3) The Blue Dogs
There are many within this fiscally conservative group of Democrats who voted "no" the first time around. There are 37 who voted no the first time who are still Democrats and still in the House.

(4) Assorted Liberals
There are those mad at Senate language around immigration (illegal immigrants can't buy into the system), the lack of a public option, etc. Clearly MANY Democrats in the House would like to see a more liberal bill. How many would torpedo the present effort as worse than the status quo is unclear. Rep. Luis Guiterrez (D-IL) is the only Representative that I am aware of who has publicly declared his opposition based on the bill being too conservative, in his case because of the anti-illegal provisions.

In total, there are 21 Democrats who are on record as being committed "no" votes, although 6 have said their position is negotiable based on the final provisions in the reconciliation "fix". But, there are at least, based on this count, 44 others who may vote "no" and the Democrats need to hold on to at least 27 of them to win....and many of these fall into the Blue Dog bucket, meaning that the DEMs will likely have to persuade at least a few who voted "no" the first time around.

I'll try to keep up with the count and the vote schedule and keep you posted.

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