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The Most Important Number in Politics Today

45

That's the percentage of voters who believe that President Obama lacks a "clear plan for solving this country's problems" in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

Since a February CNN poll, that number has risen nine points while those who believe Obama does have a plan to solve the nation's problems has dropped from 64 percent to 53 percent.

Remember that Obama was elected in large part on two basic ideas: "the vision thing" and what we have affectionately taken to calling the "cult of competence."

Obama, with little legislative experience to lean on when he began running for president in early 2007, instead based his campaign around the twin ideas of "hope" and "change." His critics decried this as nothing more than a rhetorical flourish but voters responded to the idea that Obama's non-traditional background might allow him to break the code for how to make Washington work again.

Couple that with Obama's steadiness and emphasis on elevating the best and brightest -- regardless of party affiliation or past differences -- and you begin to see why the fact that 45 percent of Americans believe he lacks a plan to solve the country's problems is a potentially serious problem for Obama and Democrats in Congress.

Obama was elected -- at least in part -- on the idea that he was the anti-George Bush, a big thinking intellectual who surrounded himself with people of similar ilk and, therefore, could be trusted to with dragging the country out of its doldrums.

The American public took a calculated risk on Obama, opting for change over experience. If public confidence in Obama's ability to lead the country in the right direction wanes, expect his job approval numbers -- and Democrats' electoral successes -- to follow soon behind.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 9, 2009; 4:47 PM ET
Categories:  Most Important Number  
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Comments

45? And I thought it would be #48!
Your ranking among online columnists, according to Mediaite.com.

Btw, Ezra Klein (you know, that new blogger at WaPo, the twitternatic one) ranks #5! Among, hmm, "print/online reporters" (???)...

Posted by: Gray62 | July 10, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Cillizza,
While you have written a pretty decent article overall, I would argue that the most important number in politics right now (and probably for the next 3 and 1/2 years) is the unemployment rate.

Posted by: Buffal0Bill | July 10, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Elect an inexperienced commie. What did you expect?

Posted by: king_of_zouk | July 9, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Elect an inexperienced commie. What did you expect?

Posted by: king_of_zouk | July 9, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Obama has had and continues to show he has general plans to try to cope with certain problems in this country. His domestic agenda so far has emphasized an economic stimulus, a health care bill, cap and trade bill and apparently will soon seek improvements in many underperforming public schools.

The problem is with the details of these policy initiatives. The "stimulus" bill enacted provided a lot of major increases in federal spending, which will provide little, or no, stimulus to the economy. The actual stimulus in the "stimulus" bill is likely to have minimal effect while the country is in a recession.

Negotiations over the health care as well as cap and trade bills have already resulted in significant sell-outs to some special interest groups. Chris alludes to the emphasis upon "hope" and "change" in Obama's campaign rhetoric, which also included promises his administration would not be unduly influenced by special interest groups. Unfortunately this has already happened with the auto bailout, health care and energy bills.

Having a plan to deal with problems is something Obama has, having a likely effective plan to deal with these problems is entirely another issue, where many in the public are justified in being skpetical.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | July 9, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse

"Oh, one more, around here every imaginable road has construction going on. Translation: grimacing guys with beards leaning on shovels and smoking, tying up traffic. Posted by: chrisfox8 "

Having once worked as a member of a surveying crew, I learned that, in modern construction, those men leaning on the shovels are usually a good sign. My best example was a construction team laying a sewer relief line. The team consisted of a Boss, in a white shirt, a foreman, in a blue shirt, two guys leaning on shovels, and a back hoe operator. When things were going good they were laying pipe, down thirteen feet, at about a foot of pipe a minute. One or the other guy leaning on a shovel had to go down into the cage eveery time a new section of pipe went in to set the laser for establishing grade, with the other guy and the foreman as saftey observers up above. Otherwise the back hoe opeartor was doing ALL the work. If both guys were down in the trench there were real problems and they weren't digging very fast.

Modern construction equipment can get a lot done with just one operator, but you need those guys leaning on shovels for those times when the equipment operator can't do it all by himself. So if the shovel operators are standing and leaning on their shovels, be happy. If THEY are working your highway project has hit a snag and you may be a bit longer until your new highway is done. (By the way, bet that at least some of the leaners are also equipment operators, they trade off a lot, or are learning to be equipment operators, cause you learn by doing.)

Posted by: ceflynline | July 9, 2009 8:17 PM | Report abuse

One more bite at this apple:

The people of the USA are like a child who's just had a nightmare in which some entirely possible but horrible thing happened in a dream.

They want to believe Mom when she knowingly says, "Everything's OK, it was just a dream."

They're beginning to realize that what happened under Bush (and under pre-Bush decades of Democrats and Republicans genuflecting at the Reaganesque altar of free markets) wasn't something to which Barack Obama (or anyone else) has the answer at their fingertips.

Will they retreat to infancy and look for a new mommy with all the answers in some Glen Beck type ranter? Or will they stay the course as President Obama wrestles the beast?

Stay tuned.

They're being asked to grow up.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | July 9, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I don't think anyone in the world has a clear, *empirically tested* and *reliable* plan for dealing with the unprecedented economic mess President Obama inherited.

And I suspect that what most people polled mean by a "clear plan for solving this country's problems" involves the notions of something that's tested and reliable enough that once you put it forward as policy you stick to it come Hell or high water.

As FDR had to do during the Great Depression, President Obama must engage in bold and persistent experimentation in order to find the best way for government to ameliorate the pain which the excesses of the private sector are imposing on the nation's citizens.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | July 9, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Americans are so incredibly impatient. It hasn't even been six whole months since Obama was inaugurated. I don't think it's remotely realistic to expect that things would be fixed so quickly.

I don't know if he has a "clear plan" or not, but given that this country has never faced a global economic crisis such as this, it would be very hard to know exactly what to do. To some extent, they're flying by the seats of their pants.

Do I think the Republicans would be doing better? Absolutely NO. They haven't floated one serious workable idea that I've heard. Just cutting taxes isn't going to cut it. And while it would have been nice if more money had gone directly to homeowners (even the ones who clearly bought properties they couldn't afford?), if the big banks had been allowed to fail, we would be looking at a financial mess that would make our current situation look like a day in the park.

Let's try to hang in there and be more patient and see what happens.

Posted by: sally1860 | July 9, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Oh, one more, around here every imaginable road has construction going on.

Translation: grimacing guys with beards leaning on shovels and smoking, tying up traffic.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 9, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Even in "recession-proof" Happy Valley, we've got stores closing, though slower growth is probably a more accurate description.

We've got at least one highway being fixed off of ARRA money and the university will probably pull some research dollars. But Fast Eddie wants to cut our state appropriations by something like 18%, which means a bunch of people are going to be out of work soon.

Posted by: mnteng | July 9, 2009 6:44 PM | Report abuse

We are not seeing a recession in Austin, just slower growth. I know we have avoided Californication so far, but I wonder how many of you in other places are not seeing hard times.

The polls obviously reflect that large parts of the country ain't Austin, but is it bad everywhere else? Wherever you are, chime in, please. Let us do our own mini-survey of regional strengths and weaknesses.

==

Seattle area: a lot of closed stores that are not being taken by new businesses.

Software industry: Microsoft tried to push down contractor hourlies, but nobody else followed suit. It took me less time to get new work in May than it took in 2001 when the dotcoms crashed. Now there was a terrible time.

Rubber meeting road: the most vulnerable place I know is a phở restaurant in my own hamlet of Woodinville, not an Asian area in any way, and they are doing fine.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 9, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

We are not seeing a recession in Austin, just slower growth. I know we have avoided Californication so far, but I wonder how many of you in other places are not seeing hard times.

The polls obviously reflect that large parts of the country ain't Austin, but is it bad everywhere else? Wherever you are, chime in, please. Let us do our own mini-survey of regional strengths and weaknesses.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | July 9, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Chris,

I agree that at present there isn't much immediate 'bang for the buck' on the Stimulus. That said, as I indicated in an earlier comment, the public ought to learn a bit of patience--I know the current ethos has been instant gratification, but it took a long while to get into this fix (lc 'f', of course), and it won't disappear magically.

Perhaps too many people took that animated Jib-Jab video at the Radio and Television Association Correspondents Dinner to heart?

I think that the electorate was not wrong in believing that Obama offered the 'cult of competence' and 'the vision thing'--he's already accomplished plenty in his first 6 months in office. But polls fluctuate, and if this trend continues into 2010, let alone 2012, there is going to be trouble.

On the other hand, I have yet to see anyone in the Republican (dis-loyal opposition) party offer a competing (innovative) solution to the country's problems, and certainly no one on the horizon has 1/10th the charisma of Ronald Reagan (hat tip to Warner Bros. Studios, ca. 1937).

Posted by: sverigegrabb | July 9, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

angriestdogintheworld _ give me a break! Obama took a bad situation and has made it worse. Just one, oft stated example. *After* receiving federal bailout money, those Wall Street banks fired more than 50,000 U.S. IT workers. After that, they applied to this White House for 50,000 "emergency" H1-B visas and replaced those U.S. workers with Indian guest workers. This has happened time after time. Outsourcing has accelerated and at least 1/3 of the jobs announced as shed by employers are actually their moving those jobs off to either China or India. Those IT CEO's that appeared with Obama, too, received a whole new crop of guest worker visas and tax breaks to either hire cheap foreign workers or move their jobs and plants off shore. Obama is an unmitigated disaster and IS to blame for the currently worsening mess. Sometime, sometime very soon, the voters and the press are going to turn on him and he and his Democratic majority are sunk. These corporate shills represent big business, not us, just like Bush and Clinton before him.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | July 9, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

If you don't think Obama was left a heck of a mess, you don't follow politics. Can he pull out of the nose dive? That would make him the Messiah...

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | July 9, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

"I think Obama needs to dump Summers and Geithner and get in someone not wedded to Wall Street. Paul Krugman comes to mind."

Krugman is a theoretician. Has he ever run anything?

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 9, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I'd say the most important number in politics today is 96,000.

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 9, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Of course, 54% of people don't know that atoms are bigger than electrons and 68% of people don't think humans have evolved over time through natural processes like selection.

http://people-press.org/report/528/

Posted by: mnteng | July 9, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, Chris, this is the lamest thing you've posted on WaPo.

Compared to Comrade McCain, every day is an A+ in America with President Obama.

Now, if we could just stop bleeding tax subsidies to for-profit firms in Big Pharma and Big Insurance and get what three-fourths of American citizens want - a single payer national health care plan that covers us and our dependent children - then we can talk about Wall Street.

That said, Paul Krugman would be an excellent choice.

Posted by: WillSeattle | July 9, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

By the way, Chris... for comparison's sake, how many people think the Republicans have a "clear plan for solving this country's problems"? Obama and the Democrats don't exist in a vacuum, ya know.

Posted by: mpl2 | July 9, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Oh gimme a break, Chris. Have you never watched a first Presidential year before? This is the usual early summer doldrums when the Inaugural euphoria has worn off but there are not yet any big legislative accomplishments while the Congress is busy making it's messy sausage. By the end of the summer, when health care reform, etc. is on track to passage, the story will be different. Remember, Bill Clinton was at 37% (!) approval at this stage in his first term.

This is part of the up-down-up... cycle and could have been predicted months ago.

Posted by: mpl2 | July 9, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Like the proverbial toddlers deprived of a cookie, the Republicans are stomping their feet and whining - why isn't the mess that they made better RIGHT NOW?!?! Just six months into an Obama presidency that inherited the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression and damn it, that watered down stimulus bill--that HAD to include tax cuts demanded by the Republicans that does little to nothing to stimulate--isn't giving us immediate gratification and relief? Amazing!


Never mind that Obama had to deal with nutty Republican governors (Sanford, Palin etc) refusing stimulus money to score cheap political points with the the whacky Wingnut 21% base and that some states are using the stimulus money to shore up budget shortfalls. Never mind that economists said it would take 12-18 months to see results, the petulant childeren who make up what's left of the Repuglican party want results NOW!!!!
.
http://lynnrockets.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/republican-crybaby2.jpg

Posted by: DrainYou | July 9, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

So why always the focus on the negatives for Democrats?

'Since a February CNN poll, that number has risen nine points while those who believe Obama does have a plan to solve the nation's problems has dropped from 64 percent to 53 percent.'

53% is still bigger than 45. And show me one republcan who has 'a clear plan for solving america's probems', rather than lining their own pockets?

Posted by: drindl | July 9, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I think Obama needs to dump Summers and Geithner and get in someone not wedded to Wall Street. Paul Krugman comes to mind.

The mortgage money should have gone to homeowners, not to the banks. That was so clearly the wrong move that I really need to wonder what the good christ is going on in Obama's head.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 9, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

You must be joking. What they chose between was competence and intelligence vs. hysterical name-calling, cronyism and incompetence.

Posted by: drindl | July 9, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

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