Entry from January 18, 2012

Jay Cost of The Weekly Standard’s “Morning Jay” has a great analysis of the slight uptick in the President’s approval rating in recent weeks — something he sees as reflecting a solidification of the Democrats’ liberal base in response to Mr Obama’s aggressively left-wing moves in recent weeks. If so, this would be consistent with the finding of the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll showing, in the words of the Post’s analysts, Jon Cohen and Dan Balz, “a dispirited and polarized electorate that is sharply divided over his record.” But the poll also showed a worrying result for his Republican opposition. According to the Cohen-Balz tag-team of Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake, people still blame former President George W. Bush for the weakness of the economy by nearly two to one:

Fifty-four percent of respondents said that Bush was more to blame while 29 percent put the blame on Obama; 9 percent said both men deserved blame while 6 percent said neither did. Among registered voters, the numbers are almost identical; 54 percent blame Bush, while 30 percent blame Obama. Independents, widely considered the most critical voting bloc this fall, continue to blame Bush far more than Obama for the economic troubles. Fifty-seven percent of unaffiliated voters put the blame on the former Republican president, while 25 percent believe the blame rests more with Obama. Heck, even one in five Republicans say Bush is more responsible than Obama for the state of the economy!

As this must be recognized by respondents as to some extent a technical economics question, I wonder whether this result doesn’t reflect the lingering media consensus, left over from the 2006-2008 period, that George W. Bush was the country’s designated bad guy, to blame for anything and everything, from Hurricane Katrina to the seemingly endless war in Iraq? The media, of course, decided this early on, but the 2006 election result amounted to a ratification of their view, perhaps in a majority that was later to turn out for President Obama at close to the 54 per cent level.

The point is that, because this consensus was well-established long before the economic crash of 2008, the scapegoat for same was already in place. He will continue to bear the blame, therefore, because that consensus must remain in place until another comes along to drive it out. This may happen, and Mitt Romney’s “he made it worse” mantra may eventually emerge as the consensus on Obama, at which point the blame will fall on him. But that consensus has not yet formed, nor is it likely to do so pending the re-election campaign. People won’t know what to think of him until they have definitively decided to vote him out of office, and they won’t do that, if they do it, until the election is upon us. It was the same with Jimmy Carter, I believe, as people only decided to buy the Reagan view of his responsibility for the bad economy of 1980 (also four years after that of 1976 swept him into office) quite late in that fall’s campaign.

One straw in the wind from the Post report is that

just 15 percent of respondents in the Post-ABC poll said they were better off now than at the start of the Obama presidency, while 30 percent said they were not as well off and 54 percent said they were in about the same shape. So while Bush may have started it, people by and large think it has gotten worse under Obama.

That would seem to indicate that there is a good chance the alternative, anti-Obama consensus may indeed emerge before the election in response to a Reaganesque campaign on the theme: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

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