On Politics On PoliticsOn Politics
Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

The Right Direction

ARCHIVES
Don't look now, liberal activists, but President Obama's pivot toward the center is paying off in higher public-approval numbers than he has seen in six months. For nearly two years, Democratic centrists watched as the newly elected president headed to the left. Not surprisingly, his poll numbers took a beating. But after Democrats suffered enormous losses at the ballot box in November, Obama turned back toward the middle.

He called for a freeze on annual pay increases for federal civil servants and negotiated a tax-cut compromise with congressional Republicans (leaving Democratic leaders watching from a distance in dismay). More recently, he named former Commerce Secretary William Daley, a moderate, as his White House chief of staff, and Vice President Joe Biden followed suit by hiring relentless centrist Bruce Reed to be his top aide.

Voters appear encouraged. Obama's overall approval numbers in the weekly aggregation of the Gallup Organization's nightly tracking poll had not exceeded 46 percent since June 7-13. But starting for the week of December 20-26, the president's approval ratings have been 47 percent, 48 percent, 48 percent, and 49 percent. Among self-described liberals, approval has strengthened from 69 percent to 75 percent, and among moderates the number has risen from 53 percent to 58 percent. For all Democrats, Obama's approval was up 4 points, from 79 percent to 83 percent; among independents, the uptick was 5 points, from 41 percent to 46 percent. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll recorded Obama's overall job approval at 54 percent, his highest since April.

This is not to suggest that the president is going to coast to reelection. He still faces a challenging economy, stubbornly high unemployment, and a housing crisis that has turned a sector that usually leads the country out of a recession into a gigantic anchor weighing down the economy.

Blue Chip Economic Indicators' latest survey of top economists forecasts a 3.1 percent growth rate in the gross domestic product for 2011 and 3.2 percent for 2012, scarcely above the 3 percent level that translates to meaningful job growth. The Blue Chip survey projects an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent for this year, and 8.7 percent for 2012, with a drop to 8.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. Wells Fargo's economics unit is more pessimistic, anticipating GDP growth of 3.1 percent for 2011 and 3.0 for 2012; it projects an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent for this year and 9.0 percent for next year, with 8.8 percent unemployment in the fourth quarter of next year, at election time.

If the private economists are wrong and the economy and, most important, employment are beating these growth estimates, Obama's reelection prospects improve tremendously. But if unemployment is just barely above 9 percent going into Election Day, the president will have a very tough hurdle to overcome.

President Reagan is the patron saint of first-term political and economic comebacks. Unemployment was a horrible 10.8 percent in November and December of 1982, when Republicans lost 26 House seats and four Senate seats. It was 10.4 percent in January and February of 1983, when Reagan's campaign began planning what looked like an uphill reelection effort.

But by January 1984, unemployment was down to 8 percent; it dropped to 7.4 percent in October, a month before Election Day, and to 7.2 percent in November 1984. That impressive improvement was powered by a GDP growth rate of 4.5 percent for 1983 and 7.2 percent for 1984, numbers that the economy is extremely unlikely to replicate over the next two years.

Obama's move toward the center is the necessary first step in his effort to get re-elected, but it isn't the only step. Talk with key business leaders and economists, and they will tell you that the government can do little to fix the housing crisis right now. Improvement will take a slow and painful deleveraging process to unwind millions of underwater mortgages that resulted from imprudent building, lending, and borrowing.

But the S&P's 500 nonfinancial companies hold an estimated $1 trillion in cash, and medium-size and smaller enterprises are also sitting on profits. These businesses are holding back on investing because managers are fearful about the solidness of the recovery and about a public-policy climate that they view as hostile and decidedly anti-business.

In a perverse way, Obama's fortunes are tied to whether business leaders develop enough confidence in the economy and in the political and public-policy process to invest, spend, hire, and expand. Their lack of confidence in the economic outlook and in political leaders has taken its toll. The question is whether Washington will take steps to tip business leaders' willingness to let go of some of that capital and invest it to create jobs.

This pivotal question gets back to centrism. President Clinton once told his economic advisers, "I don't understand how someone can love jobs but hate the people who create them." President Obama has already been partially rewarded by his new approach. If he wants to get reelected, he will need to continue this course.

 
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.