Thursday, January 21, 2010

Buyer's remorse is rampant among U.S. voters, but they won't have a return desk for three years

Americans were giddy about getting rid of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but they are clearly suffering from buyer's remorse a year later.

The seeds of Obama's current political dilemma were sown the day of his inauguration. The expectations heaped on his shoulders were clearly impossible to sustain, and there was little effort by his administration to dampen the "hope" that had propelled him from first-term senator to first African-American president. And when those expectations weren't met, someone had to be held accountable.

Polling done over the past 30 days paints a very clear picture of a president who has fallen short of expectations:

• Only 39 percent of the country would vote to re-elect Obama, according to a National Journal poll, while 50 percent would "definitely" or "probably" vote for someone else. This is significant. George W. Bush is the only candidate in modern times to win re-election with less than half of the country expressing a desire to re-elect him.

• According to Gallup, Obama has suffered the greatest fall in approval of any elected president since the company started ongoing tracking during the Eisenhower administration. Obama came into office with the approval of two out of every three voters (67 percent) but ended his first year with just half the electorate (50 percent) offering a positive evaluation of his performance. Only the unelected Gerald Ford fared worse in the court of public opinion.

• It's not just the Obama agenda that is under attack. It is his philosophy that has America balking. For example, Americans are increasingly returning to the conservative ideology they held before the perceived failures of the Bush administration crushed conservative self-identification levels. According to Gallup, fully 40 percent of Americans now identify themselves as conservative, compared with just 21 percent who call themselves liberal.

• And finally, while the Republican brand has barely moved since its electoral disasters of 2006 and 2008 and remains unpopular, Democratic popularity has collapsed as well. Most surveys now have the GOP even or even slightly ahead in the generic congressional ballot, and Americans now see the Republicans to be as good if not better in handling the economy.

But the single most damning polling result doesn't mention Obama or his administration or even government in general. Rather, it's the collapse of intergenerational optimism that had characterized American attitudes and driven the American spirit of achievement for more than half a century.

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