November has not been kind to the Obama administration. Piece after piece of the Affordable Care Act has very publicly fallen apart or failed to function as promised, and voters have punished President Obama in the polls accordingly. Between the embarrassing failure of HealthCare.gov’s rollout and the broken promise of “if you like your plan, you can keep it,” headline after headline has spelled bad news for the president and his team.
When pundits and politicos assess the health of a presidency, the most obvious and oft-noted metric is job approval. Do Americans approve of the job the president is doing? The question is broad; it does not specify a particular issue or attribute, assessing very generally how well voters think a president has governed. The latest CBS News/New York Times poll showed Obama at only 37 percent job approval. For context, the 57 percent who disapprove of Obama’s job matches the 57 percent who disapproved of President Bush in November 2005, when his popularity was plagued by the increasingly unpopular Iraq War and the fallout after Hurricane Katrina.
Yet what has made this last month different is not that it is the first time Americans have disapproved of the job Obama has done as president. Indeed, since the summer of 2010, polls have tended to show Obama’s job disapproval slightly higher than his approval. His approval numbers have sagged before, but he has been able to recover and regain Americans’ confidence in his ability to govern.
But for the first time in Obama’s presidency, Americans have decided that they generally do not like and do not trust our president. Rather than a gauge of a president’s competence or effectiveness, questions of whether Obama is honest, or whether a voter has a favorable opinion of Obama, give a much more personal assessment—an assessment of a man rather than an office.
In the past, even as Americans questioned the competence or performance of the Obama administration, many still were willing to give Obama, the man, the benefit of the doubt. They were willing to forgive, and to hope. The polls indicate that may no longer be the case.
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