Over the last week, Barack Obama’s job approval rating has ticked up slightly, as this graph from RealClearPolitics shows:
Is this the sign of a structural improvement in the president's standing, or a consequence of the headlines tilting the marginally attached portion of the public in his direction?
It looks like the latter to me. Obama has had good press recently with the end of the Muammar Qaddafi regime in Libya. What’s more, his team has taken up a full-blown publicity campaign, and that looks to me to have improved his numbers.
It does not look structural, which is to say that the current national climate has not improved for the president, nor has the electorate’s perception of that climate.
Regarding perception, consider this graph, again from RCP:
Such pessimism is understandable. The markets have breathed an enormous sigh of relief now that a recession seems not to be impending; however the economy as it is felt by the average American is still well within recessionary territory. Wages are stagnant, unemployment is high, and housing values are stuck at depression levels. The economic performance under Obama is arguably worse than any three-year stretch since Herbert Hoover's tenure.
So it is interesting that Obama sounds like Hoover so much lately. Three parallels stand out between the Hoover 1932 campaign and the one Obama is set to run.
First, Obama consistently deflects blame. He talks regularly of the problems he “inherited” from George W. Bush, for instance. Hoover had the same kind of argument, only he blamed Europe. In his nomination acceptance address, he asserted:
Before the storm broke we were steadily gaining in prosperity…Being prosperous, we became optimistic -- all of us. From optimism some of us went to over expansion in anticipation of the future, and from over expansion to reckless speculation…Then three years ago came retribution by the inevitable worldwide slump in consumption of goods, in prices, and employment. At that juncture it was the normal penalty for a reckless boom such as we have witnessed a score of times in our history. Through such depressions we have always passed safely after a relatively short period of losses, of hardship and adjustment. We adopted policies in the government, which were fitting to the situation. Gradually the country began to right itself. Eighteen months ago there was solid basis for hope that recovery was in sight.
Then there came to us a new calamity, a blow from abroad of such dangerous character as to strike at the very safety of the Republic. The countries of Europe proved unable to withstand the stress of the depression.
What Hoover is trying to explain away here is the economy falling off a cliff in 1932, when GDP decreased by more than 13 percent. His argument was that everything was improving (thanks to his efforts), but Europe fell over and took the United States with it. Sound familiar?
Second, Obama talks only about inputs, never about outputs. Watch for this next time he holds a press conference or some kind of public forum. Whenever somebody asks him about the unemployment rate and why it is so high, he will inevitably get back to all of the programs and initiatives he has launched to deal with the problem. That’s a deflection because, of course, the programs and initiatives clearly haven’t worked. About the only output that he can point to is “saving” GM, but the auto bailout was massively unpopular.
This is exactly the argument that Hoover made in 1932. Consider his nomination acceptance address, he argued: