James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Is this the economic key to Obama’s reelection?

Jan 5, 2011 16:02 UTC

As a follow up to my post on how the tax deal might affect Obama’s reelection chances, here is a bit of insight from superanalyst Dan Clifton of Strategas Research:

Income growth is the key to
presidential reelections and will be the motivating factor of White House initiatives over the next two
years. Obama is starting from a position near President Carter’s, but with new growth initiatives, we
would expect him to slowly climb up the predictive trend line below

Income growth is the key to presidential reelections and will be the motivating factor of White House initiatives over the next two years. Obama is starting from a position near President Carter’s, but with new growth initiatives, we would expect him to slowly climb up the predictive trend line below:


Blaming the American public

Nov 8, 2010 17:43 UTC

If the Obama wants to be a one-termer, he should pay attention to people like Hendrik Hertzberg:

Part of the Democrats’ political problem is that their defense, confusingly, depends on counterfactuals (without the actions they took in the face of fierce Republican opposition, the great slump would have metastasized into a Great Depression), deferred gratification (the health-care law’s benefits do not kick in fully until 2014), and counterintuitive propositions (the same hard times that force ordinary citizens to spend less money oblige the government—whose income, like theirs, is falling—to spend more). Another part of the problem, it must be said, is public ignorance.

Me: And none of that is likely to change substantially over the next two years. There will be no second acts for The Stimulus, healthcare reform will still seems off-point as best, and Americans will still think Washington should mimic the austerity of U.S. households. Messaging and optics isn’t going to cut it.

Obamanomics to blame for historic Democratic midterm collapse

Nov 3, 2010 11:37 UTC

It wasn’t just the economy, stupid. The historic losses suffered Tuesday by Democrats in the U.S. midterm elections owe as much to the unpopular and off-point agenda of President Barack Obama as it does to high unemployment. A policy pivot might have limited the damage, but the White House failed to recognize the trouble until too late.

Of course, Democrats will understandably be tempted to blame the debacle almost entirely on the undeniably poisoned chalice George W. Bush handed them. The Great Recession was of a sort Americans hadn’t experienced since the one Franklin Roosevelt encountered. The two previous downturns were brief and job losses minor. Even now, Americans are as gloomy as they were at the downturn’s depths.

But if the American public was blindsided, so was the White House. It recklessly predicted unemployment would never reach 8 percent if Congress passed its $816 billion stimulus plan. The economic team was also dismissive, even through this spring, of the notion that the U.S economy would suffer the slow-growth aftermath that typically follows deep financial crises.

Still, the magnitude of Democratic losses – the worst drubbing in the House since the 1930s — certainly hints more at play than just economic frustration. In the 1982 midterms, for instance, Republicans lost just 26 House and zero Senate seats despite unemployment cresting at 10.8 percent. The damage was much worse in 1994 — Democrats lost 54 House seats and 8 in the Senate — when unhappiness over President Bill Clinton’s healthcare plan offset a growing economy.

Likewise, voters saw the passage of Obama’s healthcare reform, which helped spawn the Tea Party movement, as at best a distraction from job creation. To this day, as many as two thirds of Americans polled think the stimulus was mostly a waste of money. That might be an overly harsh assessment. But even the White House admits the plan’s “shovel-ready” spending took too long to implement. And instead of cuts in marginal tax rates or payroll taxes, Team Obama chose poorly structured tax credits.

Despite plunging polls, business complaints about regulatory uncertainty and populist rhetoric, and the stunning loss Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat last January, there was no major course correction. To the White House, it was all just a bunch of whining. It was only in September that the administration finally proposed a “second stimulus” of business tax cuts that were too little, too late to change the political or economic dynamic. The economy made a Republican win almost inevitable, but Obamanomics made it a wipeout.


shawngrggs – “The American public handed him arguably one of the worst economic situations in American history, and told him “fix it, NOW!””

The American public didn’t hand him anything. The economic situation that we’re in right now was created by the Govt not the public. The fact is, this is a country of booms and bust……it always has been and it always will be. That’s how free market enterprise works. You can’t be in a perpetual boom forever. At some point it has to go the other way. The problem with the Govt is they’re always trying to “fix” the problem by passing some enormous expensive piece of legislation that really does nothing but make doing business harder which results in less jobs being created and longer bust periods. If we would just let the busts happen and stop trying to fix everything with some ridiculous law we’d all be much better off.

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Obama’s Great Miscalculation and the midterms

Nov 2, 2010 18:51 UTC

Republican pollster Steve Lombardo nails it with this piece of analysis (via The Daily Caller):

1)     Democrats are in this situation mainly because of voter dissatisfaction with President Obama. This election is a referendum on Obama and his policies. While the economy is an enormous part of this equation (we will get to that next), people — and by that we mean swing voters: independents and “soft” Republicans and Democrats — voted for Obama because they thought he was a “different” kind of politician who would bring about “change.” As it turns out, he’s pretty much a conventional, big government, left-of-center politician. And he’s governed accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not what people thought they were getting. According to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, only 32% of self-identified independents approve of the job Obama is doing, and his job approval among moderates is at 49% (this is lower than in past NBC/WSJ polls). A recent New York Times/CBS poll also makes clear the depth of this disillusionment. Among the voting segments that are currently “disappointed” with the Obama presidency: older voters (63% disappointed), college grads (60%), and those earning $30,000 to $50,000 (57%). Even 52% of voters aged 18-29 are disappointed with Obama.

2)     Our sense is that the administration and the president dramatically misread the economic downturn and its effect on the electorate. It is not just that the economy is bad, it is that Obama and his team gave little impression that they were trying to fix it. Look, we know they faced a huge challenge and were trying to cushion the downturn, but the focus on health care reform —combined with the poor reaction to the Gulf oil spill and other ambitious policy initiatives (the stimulus package, cap and trade, etc.) — created a muddled narrative. While the economy is what it is, perception is reality, and by focusing on other things the president looked out of touch and arrogant. At this point, “hope and change” is to Obama what “Mission Accomplished” was to George W. Bush. If you promise “hope and change” — the implication being that things will get better — and things, in fact, get worse, you get punished, and that is what will happen today.  The problem for the president is that the economic situation is abysmal and no amount of saying that things are “improving” can change that.

Me: I would also add that it is not just the perception of Obama’s policies that is hurting Democrats, but the policies themselves: a) the stimulus was poorly designed; b) healthcare, FinReg and the fate of the Bush tax cuts created vast uncertainty; and c) all the badmouthing of business created a bad vibe about where Obama’s head was at.


High expectations, thats the killer that will take Obama, all he had was communication skills, his charm and charisma, when it comes to economics, its not easy even though you know sociology, political science and if you can make econometric models, how robust is your soultion, where are your spends? where are you injecting stimulus money.
it was easy to punish republicans by not voting for them for loosing your job, does that mean someone can create jobs? the choice is between the devil and the dead sea now.

Why is American government responsible for all oil spills in the whole world, cleaning up is international responsibility, why is’nt China spending enough money on its spills then? why can’t the international community question China?

Arvind Pereira

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10 reasons the GOP might do even better than expected

Nov 2, 2010 14:21 UTC

My call is 64 and 9. But Super-smart, super-plugged-in Washington political analyst Dan Clifton of Strategas lays out his reasoning for a mega-tsunami:

1. The House Has Never Flipped Parties Without The Senate Also Flipping. In the seven cases where the House and Senate flipped together, the Senate was not expected to change parties in six of those elections, similar to consensus expectations for today’s election.

2. The Reliable Gallup Generic Ballot Is Indicating The Dems Will Lose 80+ Seats. If the GOP wins even 60-65 seats, the Senate will also likely flip.

3.  Roughly 70 Pct Of Competitive Districts Go To The Challenging Party In A Wave Election. With 100 competitive seats in the House and 15 competitive Senate seats, the formula suggests the GOP will win 70 House seats and 10 Senate seats.

4.  GOP Enthusiasm Advantage Is 63-37, Up From 44-35 In 1994.

5. Obama’s Approval Rating Is 44 Pct, 2 Pct Lower Than Clinton’s Mid-Term Approval.

6. Congressional Approval Rating Is At Its Lowest Level Ever.

7. Only 33 Pct Of Voters Believe Members Of Congress Deserve Reelection, Down From 38 Pct In 1994. (33-56 2010, 38-45 1994)

8.  The Ratio Of GOP To DEM Voters In This Election Is 55 To 40 Pct, Up From 49 To 44 Pct In 1994.

9. Just 32 Pct Of Voters Believe The Dems Will Keep The House, Leading To Lower Voter

Turnout Among The Dems.

10. State By State Polling Is More Than Likely Oversampling Dem Turnout Based On Overstated 2006 & 2008 Data.



In my opionin the attitude of any citizen group would be of anti-incumbency, as they want results, since the ruling party is not bringing them thier order, the common attitude is to fire the non-performers. In a complex situation like this, we need to focus on policy and make projected cash flows, job flows and take decisions, my biggest issue with democratic set ups is that governments are forced to do popular moves, and the second overbearing the system takes is turn out on elections

Arvind Pereira

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Why midterms could be worse than expected for Dems

Nov 1, 2010 14:14 UTC

Nate Silver speculates on why the GOP tidal wave could actually be a tsunami: 1) Once voters start pulling the R lever for one race, it will become habit; 2) Tea Party draws in “unlikely voters” that pollsters are missing; 3) The notion that undecided voters tend to break against the incumbent; 4)”Scott Brown Effect” — voters in blue states use this election as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to send an R to Congress; 5) some likely voter models based on past voting histories are overrating the propensity of Democrats to vote.


Democrats are going down because they’ve been exposed as the tax and spend, power hungry, freedom taking, God forsaking lying vile vermin that they have always been but have managed to hide with the help of a dumbed down, spineless, and unquestioning mouthpiece media that no longer has the credibility to provide cover. Its just that simple.

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20 reasons Democrats are the walking dead

Nov 1, 2010 02:56 UTC

The final numbers are almost beside the point. Whether Democrats lose one or both houses of Congress, the 2010 congressional midterms will almost surely be an epic rebuke to the party and President Barack Obama. Two years ago, Democrats actually thought they would probably gain seats during these elections, just like Republicans did in 2002. What happened? This, politically and economically:

1. Americans still think the country is headed in the wrong direction. According to a new Washington Post poll, 71 percent of registered voters think the United States is on the wrong track. That’s the same as it was in February 2009 when the economy was shrinking and hemorrhaging jobs.

2. Sustained high unemployment. Ouch. 17 straight months of an unemployment rate of 9 percent of higher, 20 straight months of underemployment of 15 percent of higher. Both numbers are twice as high as what Americans are accustomed to during the past generation.

3. A moribund housing market. According to the S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values covering 20 cities, housing prices are 28 percent below their July 2006 peak.

4. A devastating loss of wealth. Households are 19 percent — or $18 trillion — poorer than they were right before the recession in 2007 thanks to the housing collapse and falling investment portfolios. Household wealth in the U.S. fell another 2.8 percent in the second quarter of this year.

5. The infamous Bernstein-Romer chart. Back in January 2009, White House economists Jared Bernstein and Christina Romer released a report that included a chart predicting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would keep the unemployment rate below 8 percent. That forecast created a metric that has come to define whether the stimulus plan is considered a success of failure. The current White House forecast, by the way, assumes the rate will not fall below 8 percent until 2013.

6. Americans think the stimulus has pretty much failed. Some 68% of likely voters think the money the federal government has spent on the economic stimulus has been mostly “mostly wasted.” (ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Sept. 30-Oct. 3.)

7. Obama’s unpopular and off-point agenda. Democrats love to say how productive Congress has been. But apparently it has been passing stuff Americans don’t really want. They don’t like healthcare reform (56 percent to 39 percent), bank bailouts (61 percent to 37 percent), or the auto bailouts (56 percent to 43 percent), according to Gallup.

8. The astounding budget deficit. Politicians are usually dubious about whether Americans really care about the deficit. The Tea Party movement showed otherwise. Numbers in the trillions are so mindboggling ginormous that they undercut confidence in the economic progress that has been made. Americans know such debt levels are unsustainable.

9. A collapse in the belief in government efficacy. Obama was from the government and he said he was here to help. He represented a swing back in the pendulum toward faith in what Uncle Sam can do. But a Gallup poll finds that 59 percent of Americans think government has too much power, up from 50 percent when Obama took office. And 78 percent trust government only “some of the time or never.” That’s the same as in 1994 and 20 points higher than when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. (New York Times-CBS Oct. 21-26.)

10. A rise in the belief that government is too meddlesome. The new WaPo poll also asked “what do you think is the bigger risk — that the Democrats will put in place too many government regulations, or that the Republicans will not put enough government regulations in place?” 52 percent said Democrats, 35 percent Republicans.

11. Lots of vulnerable House Democrats. There are 48 Democrats in seats won by both John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004. After big Democrat wins in 2006 and 2008, it was time for some mean reversion.

12. The Greek debt crisis. Debt problems in Greece and other European countries have provided a vivid warning that high government debt levels can lead to financial crisis. Budget hawks no longer have to make theoretical arguments. They just have to point to the business pages.

13. The stimulus was poorly designed. The infrastructure spending took too long, and the tax credits were saved at an even higher level than the Keynesian rebates in the 2008 Bush stimulus plan, 13 percent to 25 percent. And sweeping cuts to marginal income and investment tax rates were never considered.

14. Americans are ready for Washington to be downsized. By 55 percent to 36 percent, respondents say they would rather have smaller government providing fewer services than the opposite. (New York Times-CBS Oct. 21-26.)

15. The Gulf oil leak was no Hurricane Katrina, but it was pretty bad. Not only did the environmental disaster cut against Obama’s image of technocratic competence, but distracted from the administration’s “Recovery Summer” tour.

16. White House overconfidence. As recently as last spring, the White House was confident that the economy was turning its way and would help Democrats keep control of Congress. So no final effort was made for fiscal action to boost growth. This same unfounded optimism led them to create a stimulus in 2009 that was as much about rewarding interest groups (public employee unions, greenies) as boosting growth.

17. The creation of toxic levels of business uncertainty. American companies are sitting on $2 trillion in cash. They don’t know what’s going to happen with the deficit, Bush tax cuts or how the new healthcare and financial regulations are going to play out. They also think the president doesn’t quite understand their role in the U.S. economy. Said Intel CEO Paul Otellini recently, “The decisions so far have not resulted in either job growth or increased confidence. When what you’re doing isn’t working you rethink it and I think we need to rethink some plan.”

18. Obama misunderstood his mandate. Americans voted for Democrats to get the economy fixed, not to use the crisis to redistribute wealth and implement the Mondale-Dukakis-Kerry agenda of nationalized healthcare and industrial policy.

19. The Internet. It allowed thousands of average Americans to organize and network into what became the Tea Party movement.

20. America is a center-right, aspirational nation. Democrats thought the financial crisis and near-landslide 2008 election meant it somehow wasn’t anymore. So they attempted to graft an essentially artificial, elitist (especially cap-and-trade) agenda onto the body politic. It didn’t take and is in the process of being rejected.


can we please fast forward to the next election so we can completely vote the democrats out and get back to work already?

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Shock poll: Americans think Bush doing a better job than Obama (and more)

Oct 28, 2010 15:53 UTC

Some fascinating numbers from longtime Democratic pollster Doug Schoen (via U.S. News & World Report). Among them: Voters prefer Bush over Obama, want the GOP to control congress, favor extending all the Bush tax cuts, don’t favor another term for Obama and would give Palin nearly 20 percent of the vote if she ran as a third-party presidential candidate.

His survey of 1,000 likely voters finds the following (bold is mine):

The 2010 midterms

– In the generic Congressional midterm election, the Republican Party has a nine-point lead over the Democratic Party, 48% to 39%. 13% are not sure.

– However, when given the choice between a Republican, a Democrat, and a Tea Party candidate for Congress, the Tea Party candidate gains more support (19%) than the Republican candidate (15%). Meanwhile, support for the Democratic Party consolidates (39%) and more voters become undecided (27%).

-- 53% prefer the outcome of this year’s Congressional elections to be a Republican-controlled Congress, while 36% prefer the Democrats to have control.

-- 66% say things in the country are headed on the wrong track, while 26% say they are headed in the right direction. 8% are not sure.

– 57% say the economy is headed on the wrong track, while 31% say it is headed in the right direction. 12% are not sure.

– Those who say they plan to vote for a Republican for Congress do so because they think the Democratic Party is doing a bad job running the country and to oppose Obama’s agenda (37%), and because they agree more with the Party’s position on social issues (17%).

– Those who plan to vote for a Democrat do so to support Obama’s agenda and have the Democrats continue to run the country (34%), and because they agree more with the Party’s position on social issues (30%).

– If the Republicans win one or both houses in Congress, over half (53%) think it is a reaction against the perceived failed policies of Obama and the Democrats in Congress, while 29% think it is because Republican Party special interest groups bought the election. 19% are not sure.

– 39% say the Democratic Party is closer to their views on major issues, while 48% say the Republican Party is closer to their views.

Barack Obama

– Despite voters feelings toward Obama personally, 56% say he does not deserve to be reelected, while 38% say he does deserve to be reelected President.

–  43% say that Barack Obama has been a better president than George W. Bush, while 48% say Bush was a better president than Obama has been.

–  42% approve of the way Obama is performing his job as president, while 57% disapprove. Similarly, 43% approve of President Obama’s handling of the economy, while 55% disapprove

Tea Party movement

– The Tea Party movement has unprecedented, broad-based support. One-quarter now says that they are Tea Party supporters, while 27% say they are opponents. 44% say they are neutral. One-quarter of Tea Party supporters self-identify as members of the Tea Party movement.

– Almost half (49%) say they are looking for someone else to vote for in the next Congressional election, while just 36% say they are inclined to vote to re-elect their representative.

– Support for the Tea Party movement is bipartisan. Tea Party supporters say the movement is a protest against business as usual in Washington (43%) rather than a protest against President Obama (20%), Democrats in Congress (11%), or Republicans in Congress (0%).

– Over half (52%) of Tea Party supporters say they support the movement because it is committed to reducing the federal government’s size and spending and the national debt. 13% support it because it supports personal liberty of the individual.

– 39% have a favorable impression of Karl Rove, while one-third have an unfavorable impression. 28% are not sure.

– 45% have a favorable impression of the Chamber of Commerce, while 26% have an unfavorable impression. 29% are not sure

2012 election

– If a Tea Party candidate is on the 2012 ballot, 32% say they would vote for a Democrat, 19% say a Republican, and 16% say a Tea Party candidate. One-third are not sure.

– In thinking about the 2012 Presidential election, if the candidates were Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romney, and Tea Party candidate Sarah Palin and the election were held today, 40% would vote for Obama. 32% would vote for Romney, and 17% would vote for Palin.

– If the candidates in the 2012 Presidential election were Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romney, and Tea Party candidate Mike Huckabee, and the election were held today, 40% would vote for Obama. 24% would vote for Romney, and 24% would vote for Huckabee.

Tax cuts and healthcare

– Over three-quarters (77%) favor extending the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year, while just 15% oppose extending them.

– Half favor extending the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, including those making $250,000 or more a year, while 40% oppose this.

– Over half (52%) favor repealing the new health care law that was passed earlier this year, while 38% oppose repealing it.


There is no way in hell that Bush evens hold a candle to Obama, There’s to much crap being said and I feel it’s the media that is destroying this country with all these lies. If Palin ever was voted in as our President then USA have alot of stupid people…

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Midterms are already locked and loaded

Oct 26, 2010 14:02 UTC

I think John Podhoretz aptly sums it up:

We’ve had 18 months of data points from many different sources that all tell the same story: Americans who vote have radically changed direction when it comes to which party they prefer. In both 2006 and 2008, voters said they preferred Democrats by margins of 8 to 12 points, and on Election Day handed Democrats landslide victories. But Republicans have led in the so-called “generic polls” since March 2009 without letup — and the gap between the two parties has remained stable at a level comparable to the previous Democratic advantage. This means that, probably at minimum, 16 percent of the electorate has shifted from voting Democrat to declaring its intention to vote Republican. That is an astonishing degree of change, and it’s why you’ve heard so much talk about this being an unprecedented election.

This Intrade chart supports his point: