Dems' Downfall: Obama's "Unpopular but Necessary" Bailouts?

As the Washington punditry begins to analyze whatever may happen in Massachusetts today, there's another angle that has come out of the recent CBS News poll that could explain voter dissatisfaction with incumbent Democrats.

A lot of what the White House has done on the economy was done because it had to be done, not because they wanted to do it. Specifically, I'm talking handing out billions in bailout money to General Motors and Chrysler and administering the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout after it was signed into law by George W. Bush.

No one doubts that the economy would be much worse -- much worse -- had GM or Chrysler failed. The same could be said for other large banks, some of which are now healthy enough to earn profits. President Obama has long said he didn't want to run GM; he had to do it. The problem is that many Americans don't see that preventing absolute total economic collapse is something the White House has done to help the middle class. In other words, the White House isn't getting credit for preventing things from being much much worse.

In this week's CBS News poll, 49 percent of respondents said the Obama administration has done too much for the banks and 37 percent said too much has been done for the auto companies, while 44 percent said the White House has done too little for homeowners and 54 percent say Mr. Obama has not done enough for the middle class.

Among independent voters, 49 percent said too much was done for the banks, while 62 percent said too little was done for the middle class. That could help explain why Independent voters turned away from the Democrat in recent gubernatorial elections and appeared to go for the Republican in many polls in the special election in Massachusetts.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about this issue in today's press briefing. "Obviously, the president was elected to deal with a set of problems, to make, to make the right decision whether or not it was the popular decision," Gibbs said.

"Ensuring that the banks didn't collapse was not a popular decision, the president strongly believes it was the right one. Ensuring that two domestic auto companies didn't go out of business, not popular, again the president believed it was the right decision to make," he added. Coverage of Obama's First Year in Office:
Jeff Greenfield: Obama's Decline in Popularity -- What Caused It?
Jeff Greenfield: Obama's Decline in Popularity -- What Caused It?
A Year After Obama, Republicans Take Stock
Poll: Obama Ends First Year with 50% Approval Rating
Grade Obama's First Year in Office Special Report: Obama's First Year

Robert Hendin is a CBS News White House producer. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.

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    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.