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

Sequestration Hits Obama in the Polls


Just as I was about to file a column noting that President Obama’s job-approval rating had dropped to 46 percent for two consecutive days in the Gallup Poll—its lowest levels since late October—his rating popped back up 3 percentage points to 49 percent. That’s still below the 52 percent that he averaged over the first eight weeks of the year, but a 3-point drop is a good bit less than a 6-point drop.

During periods of unusually high political turbulence, instability in poll numbers is common. Sometimes when a lot is happening and voters are not sure what to think, their poll responses can reflect the impression they got from a television news story an hour before the pollster called or from a newspaper article or headline they read that morning. Their response today might be different from the one they would have given yesterday or the one they might give tomorrow. In such times, numbers bounce around a lot, so drawing conclusions from the results of one or even two polls is risky—as I almost learned again for the millionth time.

The early suspicion that Washington’s inability to head off budget sequestration would hurt both sides is still a very reasonable one, although the circumstances differ for each party. When pollsters ask respondents about approval/disapproval or favorable/unfavorable opinions of Congress overall, of the Republican Party, or of “Republicans in Congress,” the numbers start so low they have little room to drop. Recent numbers for the Democratic Party or “Democrats in Congress” have been mediocre at best but are still better than Republicans’, so they have more room to fall. Obama’s postelection numbers have been running about normal for presidents at this stage; his approval rating had been as high as 53 percent, with a disapproval rating of 40 percent, as recently as Feb. 24-26, but that was something of a spike.

Averages of all the polls compiled by RealClearPolitics show a gradual decline in Obama’s job approval since the first of the year, while the rival Huffington Post’s Pollster.com has his numbers very stable since the beginning of 2013. Because this is not an election year, fewer polls are being conducted. The most recent readings are coming from either the Gallup Organization or Rasmussen Reports’ nightly tracking.

Still, the widespread assumption that sequestration will produce no winners, only losers, will probably turn out to be accurate. To be sure, there is no federal election in the immediate future where Washington’s dysfunction is likely to be a huge factor. Neither the Massachusetts special election to fill Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat nor the South Carolina special election to fill Sen. Tim Scott’s House seat is likely to turn on sequestration or D.C. politics.

But elected officials are political animals, constantly evaluating their personal standing and their party’s standing with the public, especially relative to others. To the extent there is fallout, it will be noticed. As a practical matter, relatively few members of Congress are in any real danger of losing reelection, My experience is, however, that elected officials are far more likely to be paranoid than overly complacent.

As we prepare to enter the second week of sequestration, few Americans have felt any pain or even inconvenience yet, although that will probably change a few weeks from now. Obama has stepped up phone calls to Republican members of Congress, putting out feelers but apparently not getting a lot of positive feedback. As part of the outreach, he hosted a White House dinner with select Republican senators on Wednesday night. In the GOP, many feel that Obama fundamentally misunderstands where conservatives are coming from. He wants to tie tax reform to entitlement reform, for example, assuming that conservatives want tax reform so badly that they’ll go for a deal that raises net revenues in exchange for some entitlement reform such as means-testing. Whether Republicans—specifically, the more conservative members of Congress—would have gone along with that before the year-end fiscal-cliff fight is debatable. But coming out of the tax increases generated by that fight, it is less likely now. As one well-connected Republican insider concluded after a discussion of where things stand in Washington, “This is really a screwed-up situation.”

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

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

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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