During the debate over the so-called fiscal cliff in December, public opinion surveys showed more Americans trusted President Obama than trusted Republicans in Congress when it came to handling the nation’s economy. The New Year’s Day deal to avoid going over the cliff, which included higher marginal tax rates on high earners — something Mr. Obama had campaigned on and lobbied for — was largely seen as a victory for the president.
But with more budget battles approaching, over raising the nation’s borrowing limit and perhaps reaching a grand bargain, Mr. Obama’s advantage over Congressional Republicans has all but vanished. Public approval of his handling of the economy has slipped, according to polls, and surveys now show that a roughly equal number of Americans favor Mr. Obama as favor Congressional Republicans on economic matters.
In December 2012 and January 2013, polls found that roughly half of Americans had more faith in Mr. Obama’s economic stewardship, while just over a third of respondents said they had more faith in the economic stewardship of Congressional Republicans. Since December, however, Mr. Obama’s standing has declined by roughly 10 percentage points, while Republicans in Congress have gained 4 or 5 percentage points.
Other pollsters, asking slightly different questions, have also found that the White House and Congressional Republicans are now on more equal fiscal footing. A Fox News poll conducted this week found when “it comes to handling the budget deficit,” 44 percent of registered voters agreed more with Mr. Obama, while 41 percent agreed more with Republicans.
A CNN poll conducted March 15 to 17 found that respondents were split in whom they preferred on handling of “the federal budget and the way the government raises and spends money,” 47 percent for Mr. Obama and 46 percent for Republicans.
The CNN poll had another worrying number for Mr. Obama. The last time a government shutdown was in the news, in September 2011, CNN found that 47 percent of respondents thought Republicans in Congress would be more responsible for a shutdown if it occurred. Just one-third of respondents said Mr. Obama would be to blame.
But CNN asked the question again in its mid-March survey and found that Mr. Obama’s advantage was gone; 40 percent of respondents said they would blame Congressional Republicans for a government shutdown and 38 percent said they would blame Mr. Obama. (Threat of a near-term government shutdown was averted after the House of Representatives passed a stopgap bill financing the government through the end of the fiscal year.)
By way of extension, if Obama has fallen to those low “Republican levels” of support in polls about the economy, Congressional Democrats are in no better shape. Senate Democrats just (barely) passed their first budget in four years – with a trillion dollars in tax hikes. And if people believe those tax hikes are only for “the rich”, they are sadly mistaken.
I love it. The phony “advantage” Democrats once enjoyed with the public over the GOP on the issue of the economy – which helped propel Obama back into the WH and led to party gains in the House and Senate – is a thing of the past, just in time for the budget battle between the Dems and Republicans heats up. Game on.