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Friday, February 24, 2012

Americans' Opinions on Two of Obama's First Term Actions

The Obama campaign strategy team, monitoring on a daily basis just who the president's opponent is going to be, has a few other things to ponder.  One of these is the degree to which they can emphasize the positive virtues of several high profile actions that occurred during the first Obama term in the re-election campaign.  The current data suggest that they need to proceed cautiously.

The Obama team is running an ad in Michigan this week emphasizing the fact that the president didn't abandon the Detroit auto industry when it hit bottom in 2008 and 2009, but rather pushed through a continuation of the financial bailout initiated in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration. 

Regardless of where Michigan voters stand on this issue, there is a decided lack of support for it among all Americans. We found 51% of Americans disapprove of the "financial bailout for U.S. automakers that were in danger of failing"; 44% approve.  Not a ringing endorsement. 

Note the specific wording of our Gallup question. A Pew Research poll asked about the bailout using this language:  "The government also gave loans to General Motors and Chrysler during this period. Do you think this was mostly good or mostly bad for the economy?"   The "also" in the Pew wording is there because this question followed a question asking about the government loans to banks and financial institutions, and a question asking about the payback of that money.  Pew found 56% of Americans saying that the loans to General Motors and Chrysler had been good for the economy and 38% bad for the economy. 

One reason for the different responses may be the Pew focus on the impact of the actions on the economy, while we at Gallup asked for a broader approve/disapprove response.  It is certainly possible that an individual may feel that a certain action helps the economy (say, giving every American a $1,000 tax rebate), but be philosophically or practically opposed to that action.  In this situation, it appears that some may agree that the financial bailout helped the economy, but disapprove of it nevertheless.

I think the "approve/disapprove" wording is the more germane for Obama's re-election campaign.  The criticism of the bailout from Obama's opponents is not focused so much of its economic impact, but rather on the philosophic assertion that the free market system should be allowed to operate, even if, at times, it is actually bad for the economy, or more specifically, bad for individual companies or industries.

One of the central issues at the crux of campaign differences this year will be the appropriate role of government in our society and in our economy.  The political implications of Obama's auto bailout most probably focus on this philosophic under-girding and what it symbolizes.  This is borne out by the finding that there are huge partisan differences in response to the bailout, with 63% of Democrats approving and 73% of Republicans disapproving.  Crucial for Obama's re-election:  less than half -- 45% -- of independents approve of the auto bailout.

Secondly, a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that the public continues to disapprove of the Affordable Health Care Act that was a legislative centerpiece of Obama's first term in office -- and already a major critical focus of his opponents.  We will publish the results of that study on Feb. 27.  This is not a new finding, however.  The ongoing Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll finds that a plurality of Americans continue to have an unfavorable opinion of the healthcare  law -- 37% favorable, 44% unfavorable, 19% no opinion -- in their January update.

Both of these actions -- the auto bailout and the healthcare act -- are exemplifications of Obama's philosophic conviction that the federal government should be used as a tool to help fix problems, help Americans, and to help fix the American economy.  His Republican opponent (regardless of who that may be) will no doubt argue from an entirely different philosophic perspective -- that that federal government should be used as little as possible in the effort to fix society's problems.

Obama will argue that the auto bailout and the healthcare act are both excellent examples of the good that the federal government can do.  At this point, however, the majority of Americans do not agree that either of these actions were warranted.


Anonymous said...
February 28, 2012 at 1:48 PM  

Gallup's wording is also far from perfect. Obama himself probably "disapproved" of the fact that he had to bail out the auto industry or risk a worse recession. There were no good options. Nobody "approves" of the lesser of two evils. Why not just ask the straightforward question: "Should Obama have bailed out the auto industry or not?" I can disapprove of the bail-out while answering yes to that question.

Anonymous said...
February 29, 2012 at 11:27 AM  

i think obama hasnt taken the right steps to improve the economy, he did what most democrats expected him to do, which was not an ideal solution to the problem facing the economy. I think the major problem with Obama'a term was that he did not take enough of a decisive step in the matters he intermingled with.

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