I’m a big fan of Clive Crook, his policy instincts and analysis are usually spot on, but his political barometer may be malfunctioning. In his latest Financial Times column he makes the classic pundit mistake of mapping his feelings onto the electorate. Crook wasn’t happy with the way Obama sold his policies. He argues President Obama “should have chosen centrism unreservedly – as many voters believed he had promised during his election campaign. Then he could have championed, as opposed to meekly accepting, centrist bills.” Although Crook acknowledges that the economy is largely to blame for falling approval ratings (political scientists have repeatedly found this to be the case), he thinks Obama’s political loss with independents and centrists is due to his insufficient zeal in talking like a centrist. After all, Crook believes the policies themselves are centrist.
First of all it is not at all clear that independents are moving that fast away from the President. Here is my previous post on the recent steadiness in their support.
And when you look at more polling from pollster.com any drop in approval coincides with the dismal economic growth, not his legislative battles or perceived non-centrist speeches.
The healthcare bill, which Crook uses as an example, passed in March. Yet, from around the time debate started on the bill to its passage to now, Obama’s approval ratings among independents have moved rather modestly. And who is to say that any of that movement is even attributable to the healthcare bill at all? Polling on the healthcare bill specifically has actually gone up slightly.
It is also interesting to note that it is actually centrist Democrats who are more likely to lose their seats than more progressive Dems. I’m not sure how that fits into Crook’s picture. What is clear is that the electorate blames whoever is in power for the state of the economy which – except at the margins – is the only thing that really matters.
Curiously, Crook also believes in further stimulus yet believes listening to the progressive wing (who wanted more and bigger stimulus) would have been a mistake.
The fiscal stimulus, too, was a centrist initiative. It was smaller than the left wanted, and included temporary tax cuts as well as increases in spending.
If Mr Obama had followed the advice of the party’s progressive wing, he would have killed his administration’s electoral prospects – and his own hopes of a second term – stone dead.
It should be obvious by now that if a bigger stimulus had resulted in a better economy, Obama’s and the Democrat’s electoral fortunes would be better right now. If anything capitulation to the centrists has been self-defeating.
Most people don’t pay enough attention to how politicians sell their plans for it really to affect their votes and when they do most just rationalize it to their bias anyway. Crook should remember voters are irrational and the economy matters more than political salesmanship. He should have stopped writing his column here:
The economy is much to blame, of course. The political effects are direct and indirect. Voters are unhappy, which hurts the party in power. The electorate understands that George W. Bush bequeathed the recession, but if 18 months of remedial action have failed to work as hoped, blame begins to migrate.