CNN released a new survey on Friday that found President Obama’s approval rating hit a new all time low. The network points to the listless economy and ongoing wars as the principal reasons for the public’s dissatisfaction with the White House:
The figures represent a new low-water mark in the CNN/ORC poll for the president, who, almost two years into his term, continues to wrestle with public worries over a sluggish economy and exhaustion with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There is no doubt that the listless economy and stubbornly high unemployment numbers shape people’s perception of the president’s performance.
But is it all about the economy? In a recent Resurgent Republic poll that I helped conduct in late August and early September, we probed a little deeper on this question.
Voters were asked to choose between the economy or the president’s conduct in office and his policies as principal reasons for his low approval. Here’s the exact wording of the question:
Some people say President Obama’s job performance rating is low mostly because of the condition of the economy. Others say the disapproval is caused mostly by his specific policies and the way he has governed. What about you? Would you say that the President's job approval is low because of the state of the economy or his specific policies and how he has governed?
The results were revealing. It’s the economy, stupid…but not for everyone. Overall 42 percent picked the economy, but the majority (52 percent) said it was “more about the his specific policies and how he has governed.”
Looking inside the data provides some other revealing differences. A large majority of Democrats (73 percent) believe the president’s slump is due to the economy. Only 16 percent pick policy and conduct.
On the other hand, Republicans reject the economic explanation. More than 8 of 10 (85 percent) of the GOP say it’s the president’s policies and how he has governed. Only 11 percent of Republicans believe the low approval is due to the economy.
These results are not unexpected. Democrats no doubt embrace the president’s style and policies, believing that if only the stubborn economy would improve, all would be in order in Obamaland. Republicans are a near mirror image of this view.
But what about the independents? Like so many other political variables this year, they come down on the side of the GOP. Nearly 6 out of 10 independents (59 percent) blame Obama’s low approval on his policies and how he has governed, while only 37 percent say the economy.
Differences between men and women on this question also deserve mention. By a 22-point margin (59 percent – 37 percent), men believe policies and conduct drive down Obama’s approval. Women, on the other hand, divide evenly on this question (45 percent economy/46 percent policy and conduct).
Independents, again, tell a different story. Gender differences disappear when we focus only on these non-aligned voters. Independent men chose policy and conduct over the economy by a 60 percent – 36 percent margin. Similarly, women pick conduct by a near identical 58 percent – 36 percent margin.
No one knows how an improving economy might change these numbers in the future. But this snap shot suggests that independents – the swing voters that helped propel Obama into the White House in 2008 – won’t change their views simply in response to an improving economy. The president needs to change how he governs to win the support of more of these voters.