Polls to New Lows: What Is Obama Doing Wrong?

President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have been seeing considerable lows over the past few months, and they are sitting in the low- to mid-40s as of the end of last week. Gallup shows a 42 percent approval to 53 percent disapproval ratio, Rasmussen reports 46 percent approval to 53 percent disapproval, and CBS News/New York Times records 40 percent approval to 54 percent disapproval. Gallup reports that Obama’s job approval rating of 41 percent is a mere 1 point over his all-time low of 40 percent.

The president’s numbers have been low for some time, but closer examination of specific topics shows that on the major issues, he’s slipping across the board. As a child asked him at a town hall meeting a few years back, “Why do people hate you?”

Well, the president’s answer was fairly correct. “Some of it is what’s called politics … and, you know, you get some of the credit when things go good. And when things are going tough, then you’re going to get some of the blame and that’s part of the job.” The former, is, well, politics, and the latter is simply being held accountable to the results an administration gleans from its actions.

Of course, that was in 2009. If that child were asking today, it might be something more along the lines of “Why does everyone hate you and all of Washington so so much?” All jests aside, there are some issues that Obama has been seeing the most criticism on, both in rhetoric and in the polls.

One such issue has been Iraq, which has seen an upheaval of opinion given the unrest and activity presently plaguing the nation. A Washington Post/ABC poll showed that 42 percent of respondents approve of Obama’s management of Iraq concerns, with 52 disapproving.

Gallup points to events in Iraq as a major driving force behind Obama’s disapproval ratings. “Obama’s approval rating in Gallup Daily tracking first showed signs of decline … in the immediate days after Islamic militants took control of Mosul,” a large city in northern Iraq, leading to a refugee population being displaced from the area. On top of that, a separate poll found that 61 percent of Americans approve of his choice to take the troops out of Iraq. This is still strong majority over those who disapprove, at 34 percent, but is down from 2011, when 75 percent approved and 21 percent disapproved.

A CBS News/New York Times poll showed only a 37 percent approval rating of Obama’s job on Iraq specifically, considerably below his 40 percent all-time low from Gallup. This number, when split along party membership, proved to be a subject heavily divided along party lines, with Republicans showing 12 percent approval, Democrats 60 percent, and independents 34 percent approval.

There remains a high percentage of Americans who believe the U.S. should not have entered the conflict in the first place. It also explains why Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush are the two highest-rated living presidents, while Obama and Bush Junior are siting at 47 and 53 percent, respectively, according to Gallup.

A second issue unquestionably hurting both the president and Congress at the moment is immigration, which shows a low under even the 37 percent approval rating of Obama’s efforts in Iraq, at 31 percent approval and 65 percent disapproval, an 8-point drop from August polling. Democrats’ approval numbers are, predictably, higher than the GOP’s in the polls, at 60 percent approval compared to 25 percent from independents and 8 percent from Republicans.

Even so, there have been decreases across party lines from a considerable jump in immigration approval seen in 2013 to the highest point across all parties, followed by a steady drop over the course of 2013 and into 2014. Drawing further attention to these issues is the current administrative strain in dealing with high numbers of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, and some criticism that the Obama administration hasn’t been clear enough on its policy regarding undocumented immigrants.

Continued negativity surrounding the Affordable Care Act, hardly new or surprising but still going strong, is likely another factor affecting the president’s policy image. As of June 23, Rasmussen shows that there has been a worsening perception of healthcare in the United States. A survey of likely voters found that 31 percent said the healthcare system was good or excellent, while 35 percent said it was poor.

Earlier this month, a separate poll shone a slightly more positive light on the reform, saying that 42 percent consider Obamacare favorably while 54 percent see it unfavorably. This is a slight increase in both favorable and unfavorable opinion over a June 9 poll, which showed 44 percent seeing Obamacare favorably and 52 percent seeing it unfavorably.

There are of course other policy items that are particularly negative within some states, as well as divisive issues that likely both help and hurt the president, such as the Keystone XL pipeline delays, which are highly unpopular in energy industry states but see support across other lobbies.

Polls are problematic for a number of reasons, one being that they are often both unconsciously and consciously biased. There are many reports that review various polling groups for their objectivity or tendency toward political leanings, or lack thereof. Public Policy Polling, for example, is often seen as liberal, while Fox News is usually a go-to example on the other side.

It’s also unknown how educated on various issues respondents are. However, polls such as these can give a general idea of how the public feels about leadership and more importantly, why the public feels that way. This can have overarching implications on other elections and can create pressure for groups to combat poor public response in certain political circles, and as such, the results are very much worth considering.

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