Such, at least, has been the beltway chatter, but so far the numbers don’t back it up.
Obama’s approval rating remains well above 60% in tracking polls. A range of state pollsters said they’d seen no diminution in the president’s sky-high approval ratings, and no improvement in congressional Republicans’ dismal numbers.
And that’s before the stimulus creates billions of dollars in spending on popular programs, which could, at least temporarily, further boot Obama’s popularity.
“It’s eerie—I read the news from the Beltway, and there’s this disconnect with the polls from the Midwest that I see all around me,” said Ann Seltzer, the authoritative Iowa pollster who works throughout the Midwest.
That’s a perception treasured by Obama’s aides, who spent a two-year presidential campaign safeguarding “the brand,” as they called it, of a new, post-partisan sort of political figure.
With the stimulus safely passed, they say they’re relying on the steady support of a populace that, after a closely watched election, is tuning out the Washington cut and thrust, and views Obama as a high-minded reformer and his Republican rivals as bitter partisans.
“You shouldn’t judge his success in reaching out by the vote count in either chamber of Congress—you’ve really got to judge it based more on what people in the country are thinking and saying,” said John Del Cecato, a media advisor to Obama’s campaign and former partner of Obama aide David Axelrod.
“If you look at any number of public polls, and private polls support this, it’s not just Democrats and Independents who support the way he’s gone about advancing the stimulus plan—it’s a certain amount of Republicans too.”
A CBS News poll released February 5, for instance, found 81% of Americans said Obama is reaching out to congressional Republicans, while just 41 percent said the congressional Republicans were looking for bipartisanship.
“There have been a number of different surveys that have shown that Americans perceive that Obama is extending a hand of cooperation, a hand that the Republican leadership is not reciprocating—that’s very striking in the data,” said Mark Blumenthal, the editor of Pollster.com, who also noted that Obama has managed to remain popular even with some Republicans.
“Everyone’s talking about spending, spending ,spending and—20-30 percent of Republicans approve of his performance,” said Blumenthal. “How is that bad?”
Republican leaders make the case that the reassertion of partisan reality will, in time, take the sheen off the new president.
“What’s regrettable is that Republicans are being cast as the partisans as a way to deflect attention away from Congressional Democrats’ failure to craft an effective—and bipartisan—economic stimulus bill,” said a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader John Boehner. “But we don’t control anything in Washington, so using us as a political whipping boy is laughable. At some point, the American people will expect the results and action rather than blame and deflection. Only time will tell when their patience will run thin.”
There’s another possibility, however: That In opposing en masse a stimulus bill that means instant, massive national spending, the GOP is cast as the Grinch to Obama’s Santa Claus. And outside Washington, Obama’s aides anticipate, the spending wll drown out the chatter about recent White House stumbles.
““Let’s be honest: Will the economic recovery or Judd Gregg be a bigger discussion point a week from now?” Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, asked reporters Thursday.
Pollsters almost universally agreed with Emanuel.
“I don’t think he’s lost anything in terms of overall job approval or favorability,” said Andy Smith, a pollster at the University of New Hampshire. “That’s just the a perception inside the Beltway that everybody outside Washington pays attention to politics and eats and lives politics the way you guys do down there.”
As he builds up a record in office, pollsters agree that the value of Obama’s brand will have more to do with his results, and less with his atmospherics.
“Over time, the kind of disputes showed themselves in the final vote on the stimulus package—that kind of partisanship will become apparent to voters around the country,” said Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown. “But whether that will be good or bad for Obama will mostly be a factor of whether people think their lives are getting better.”
Jonathan Martin contributed to this story.