Obama one year on

Losing Massachusetts the day before his first anniversary as President makes it somewhat bitter for President Obama. But how has his first year gone?

Personally I don’t think Obama has done an awful job. I think his biggest mistake was the size of the fiscal stimulus, leading to a a truly horrible fiscal deficit. In his defence, Bush left him a huge deficit as it was – but he has made it worse.

On foreign issues, I don’t have huge gripes. He is not bolting out of Iraq, but decreasing troop numbers at much the same rate Bush would have. His surge in Afghanistan was the right thing to do. Like most of his predecessors he has made little progress on the Palestinian issue, but he has not become an Israel basher (I suspect his Chief of Staff moderates him here. Emanuel actually did volunteer service with the IDF duing the first gulf war).

He is showing some rationality with trade issues, as opposed to his pre-election rhetoric. And again Bush often went protectionist also.

His healthcare legislation has been a disaster. Even with massive compromises and watering down, it may not pass, and if it does pass it won’t solve the real problems.

I think Obama’s problems come down to three major things:

  1. Expectations. On TV yesterday that had a live focus group of 40 Massachusetts voters. They asked them to raise their hands if Obama has met or exceeded their expectations, and not a single one did. And this is in a blue state.
  2. Priorities. Obama’s fiscal stimulus did little bar increase the deficit massively, and turn the country into deficit hawks. Unemployment went well beyond his worst forecasts, and Obama was seen as too focused on other issues such as healthcare, cap and trade, foreign policy etc.
  3. Experience. I said before the election that Obama was inexperienced as he basically had just two years of experience as a legislator, and no executive experience at all, and it is showing. Bush left him a mess, and the credit crisis occurred, but regardless the presidency of the US is always going to be pretty much the toughest job in the world, and Obama is coping about as well as any first time Senator would – not that well.

Now there is some good news for him. His poll ratings are averaging 50% approval to 44% disapproval, which is up from a month ago. They are still historically very low – the only ones lower were Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan on their one year anniversaries.

He is still personally liked, if not respected, as AP reports:

But while nearly nine in 10 people like President Barack Obama personally, he earns decidedly mixed reviews in a new Associated Press-GfK poll judging his first year in office, a verdict darkened by a stunning repudiation of his party in the Massachusetts Senate race yesterday. …

Even three-quarters of Republicans say they personally like Obama.

The AP poll gives us net approval ratings for Obama on various issues:

  • The economy -1%
  • Iraq +10%
  • Healthcare 0%
  • Terrorism +15%
  • Environment +22%
  • Federal Deficit -16%
  • Energy +23%
  • Taxes -4%
  • Immigration -6%
  • Afghanistan +7%
  • Foreign Relationships +26%
  • Unemployment -1%
  • Gas prices -4%

The mid terms are looking to be focused on the economy, the deficit and jobs. It is quite possible now that the GOP could retake the House. The Senate is most unlikely though.

Too early to speculate much on 2012. Obama may be a one term President, but these are in his favour:

  • The economy should pick up
  • He has three years
  • The Republicans have to find an electable candidate
  • Now they no longer have 60 votes in the Senate, they can blame Republican blocking tactics for lack of progress on some issues
  • He may do a Clinton and head towards the centre more

What are the chances of the GOP taking the House in 2010? In August Nate Silver said it was a one in four chance, so probably more than that now. The Republicans lead in the generic ballot by 1%. However history has taught us that the party not in the majority normally does significantly better than its poll ratings a year out – so I’d say the chance of GOP taking the House is at least 50% now.

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