While it would be wonderful for the post-inauguration high to maintain itself, it isn’t remotely possible.
Right before the inauguration, Obama’s approval rating was 79%. Obviously, that number has to include a lot of independents and Republicans. From Truman to Bush, Clinton left with the highest approval rating (66%). If Obama is not immune to the laws of polling physics, this suggests that he has a long way to fall.
During times of crisis, leaders have reached around 90%, including Bush after 9/11 and FDR after Pearl Harbor. Right now, we are in a crisis. The signs are all around. Increasing unemployment, consumer confidence at an all-time low, even the fact the precipitous drop in gas prices is, at best, a mixed thing, as it shows the dramatic speed of the slowdown. Barring such extreme situations, it becomes a lot harder to maintain one’s popularity. And if Obama can’t fix this soon, there’s not a chance people will continue liking him just because of his smile and speaking style.
Worldwide excitement has already started to diminish, with members of the Arab world criticizing Obama for not being vocal enough regarding the recent Gaza conflict. It will be impossible for Obama to maintain the devotion of both those strongly supporting Israel’s rights to security and those strongly supporting the Palestinians’ rights to a homeland of their own.
Domestically, right-wing folks decry both Obama and Bush as pursuing socialist policies regarding the economic crisis. If/when Obama starts pushing for bigger changes and new and improved government programs, the calls against ‘socialism’ will increase, as well, and we’ll get back to the old partisan rancor.
In the end, Obama’s approval rating will be torpedoed by one of two things, if not both:
- Obama is in a lose-lose situation. People support him because we are in a crisis and the American public tends to have faith in presidents that show strong leadership therein. If he is successful in turning the economy around, it just allows people the luxury of going back to old partisan stand-bys, which will split the electorate once again.
- The American public claims that they understand that it can take two or more years to turn the economy around. I find it hard to believe that people won’t grow impatient with Obama if there aren’t significant signs of improvement in the economy, health care , the environment, and all of the other things that people believe that Obama can/will change. And come 2012, given such circumstances, if a charismatic Republican pins the blame on Democrats for not doing enough with control of the Executive and Legislative branches, it will be difficult for the Democrats, and Obama, to defend themselves.
So don’t worry folks, the country (and the world), while united for a couple days or weeks, will soon go back to old divisions. The honeymoon will be brief. Happy Day-After-Inauguration Day.