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Obama Is Doing Too Much -- But That's OK

Back on Monday, I noted a Pew Research Center poll's finding that, contrary to the emerging consensus of the Washington punditocracy, only 35 percent of Americans think President Obama is trying to tackle too many issues in his first few months. Fully 56 percent of the poll's respondents said Obama is "doing about right" -- while four percent said he was actually focusing on too few issues.

But then yesterday, along came a new CNN poll with what appeared to be dramatically different results.

"Fifty-five percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday say that since he's taken over in the White House, President Obama has tried to handle more issues than he should have. Forty-three percent say he hasn't bitten off more than he can chew," wrote Paul Steinhauser under the headline, "Poll: Obama's taken on too much, say Americans."

The poll also found, by the way, that "a majority, 58 percent, feel that the president's programs strike the right political tone for the country....59 percent say they approve of how the President's handling the economy, 57 percent like how Obama's dealing with health care, 63 percent approve of his energy policy and 65 percent back him on education reform. Sixty-six percent like Obama's approach to foreign affairs, with 63 percent approving of how he handles Iraq, 67 percent agreeing with him on Afghanistan and 61 percent approving of his performance in the fight against terrorism."

How, then, to reconcile these two apparently opposing results?

I put the question to's Mark Blumenthal. In his blog, Blumenthal writes that "the usual culprit in these sorts of discrepancies is that pollsters are asking about something that a lot of respondents have not really considered before....As a general rule, it is hard to understate how often ordinary Americans are oblivious to the controversies that seem oh-so important inside the beltway, on cable news or the blogosphere. I would wager that the is-Obama-overextended meme is probably one of them."

But he also notes that "although both questions ostensibly ask about the same idea, they use different wording.

"In particular, the Pew question is far more explicit about labeling one option as approving of Obama's performance ('Obama is...doing about right'), while the CNN equivalent is a little more vague ('Obama has tried to handle more issues than he should have'). Perhaps some respondents interpret the words 'should have' differently, agreeing that Obama is having to handle more issues than he 'should have' were these ordinary times. Or perhaps some are not hearing the words 'than he should have' at all, and instead interpret the question as asking whether Obama is trying to handle many issues or few issues."

After reading Blumenthal's post, what became increasingly clear to me was that you can't really conclude definitively from the CNN poll whether people are happy or unhappy with Obama's behavior, whereas in the Pew poll, there was a distinct value judgment.

So what both polls say, taken together, is that people think Obama is doing a lot -- but they're not really concerned about it.

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 19, 2009; 12:25 PM ET
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Next: Obama Tries to Harness the Outrage


Mr. Obama faces a real problem in how his Treasury Secretary has handled the financial bailout with AIG. I no longer trust the Treasury Secretary, and I wonder what my President knew and when. This is a disaster in the making that will crimp their political effectiveness terribly, unless resolved in a way that calms popular outrage. Mr. Geithner's resignation is one of the steps that may help restore some calm, and some faith in Mr. Obama's administration

Posted by: Mill_in_Mn | March 19, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

actually Obama is not doing a lot of things at the same time. In fact he is all talk right now. If something questionable or disheartening comes up in DC then he tries to go around the country and explain himself. It might work for sometime but eventually people will get tired of his explanation or appeal and then they will not trust him anymore. Yes, it is good to tackle all the problems at once but if they were merely based on desire to improve then what? I believe he doesnot even have blueprints for the changes he would like to come. All he got is budgeting for it in the hope of improving coverage as in healthcare? But that is superficial and will only last as the money, which is basically expanding welfare. He should demand a really feasible healthplan which will be controversial and which will demand his last stroke approval being the president. Healthcare needs an overhaul not little by little maintenance and minor repairs and changes. many will not be happy to give up their power and money but if it eventually benefit the poor why should our president hesitate.
The president should be proactive and should not be caught unaware like what happen to AIG. He should start looking at the bonuses of the HMO's and health insurance people before they end-up needing a bail-out.

Posted by: statistician | March 19, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Comments are so predictable. The very same individuals who were angry that Bush was being judged harshly are screaming for Geithner's head and blaming Obama for the mess that took Bush eight years to create. Where is the Obama magic wand? Why doesn't he just use some juju? Such a sad bunch, these Republicans, the sorest losers I have ever seen.

Posted by: thoughtful11 | March 19, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

The problem with asking "is he trying to do too much?" is this: If the person answering doesn't care about one of Obama's initiatives, then even if he likes the rest of it, he would consider Obama to be trying to do too much.

Most everyone can agree that fixing the economy is the most important task. But Obama spending 24/7 on it won't necessarily get it done that much faster.

Posted by: mikeinmidland | March 19, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Dan, why try to reconcile two contradictory beliefs? Einstein saw this as the sign of genius. And the genius of the Republican propoganda machine is to convince vast swaths of the populous that actions that appeal to them and are in their best interests are actually negatives that must be counteracted.

Posted by: davecohen | March 19, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I think most people do not keep up with the crazy inside the beltway faux scandals and we know that because when there were real scandals involving the Bush administration it actually took Katrina for them to actually sink in and to become part of the body politic. Part of that may have been because the press during the last administration basically was asleep at the wheel. Now they seem to have awakened and are ready to call any item a scandal (you know like they did during the Clinton administration). It is very quaint to watch the beltway press running around clicking their heels like someone just invited them to the dance. I assume having been institutionally celibate for the last eight years has been pretty tough on these "frisky" journalist that had to put their craft on hold for so long, but it paid well for them to do so--not all was lost. Now that they were good little boys and girls for the last eight years now they have been given cushy positions to spend the next 4 ripping Obama to shreds(think rappin' David Gregory). We voted for Obama in record numbers because we wanted change, but the press is part of the elite in this country that NEVER wanted change and they will make sure they do everything in their power to eliminate any chance of that change happening. There are a select few that will give him a chance, but very few of those have plum positions. So good luck guys and girls-let the repeat of the Clinton years begin...

Posted by: Poopsybythebay | March 19, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm as frustrated as anyone at the AIG bonuses. I wrote to my congressman within a minute of the story appearing in the news days ago, and I'll be seeing him at a town hall on Saturday.

But anyone who wants to get rid of Geithner at this point is throwing out the baby with the bath water. It could well be that he's just a quant and not a manager.

My view, and I admit I'm a quant, is that he's dealing with bigger issues of trillions, so millions don't even show up on his radar screen.

Our economic problem with the toxic assets is larger than the vast majority of Americans can comprehend. You really need to convert the data into a linear graph to comprehend the scope.

Over $50 TRILLION in credit default swaps were traded in 2007. The US GDP is less than $14 trillion.

The $165 million is to $50 trillion as a single sheet of paper is to a stack 18.7 miles tall.

I want Geithner focusing on the 18 mile stack and leave congress to deal with the single piece of paper.

Posted by: boscobobb | March 19, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Obama has to do it all because its all connected (and not to Kevin Bacon)

Manufacturers need to be freed of the burden of health care if we really want a healthy manufacturing base. If we could stem the arterial bleeding in Iraq we could afford national health care. If we developed energy independence, we wouldn't need to spend blood and money defending interests in the Middle East (not to mention our dear friend in Venezuela). Energy independence would require an entire new manufacturing base of American made gas sipping cars, bullet trains, windmills, solar panels, all of which require steel and workers to make the steel to make the windmills/cars/trains. and to make the manufacturing base healthy we need to free the employers of the crippling costs of health care......

But I am stewed at Mr. Obama for (at least the appearance) of going overboard to avoid stepping on white collar contracts for bonuses but not for the union workers.

Posted by: patriot16 | March 19, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

The poll response to "doing too much" reflects the shaping of public opinion by the press. They have to criticize him for something, so they make it up. Which priority should he sacrifice? None.

Posted by: gobears | March 19, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

While we're looking for $165 million, anyone ever found the $9 billion in $100 bills delivered to Iraq back in 2003 and 2004?

Posted by: boscobobb | March 19, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Thanks boscobobb for bringing up a very cogent point. Have you ever seen the villagers even mention the loss of the 9 billion during the Bush administration? EVER? I think not. They could not worry their pretty boy heads(you know the ones;David Gregory,Jake Tapper,Ed Henry, Chuck Todd, or John King) about that--that was done by the daddy figures they adore so very much. It is as if for eight years their proverbial heads were habitually in the sand. When I think about them on January 20th I can see them in my minds eye actually going into a phone booth and undressing out of their suits and putting on their superman outfits in the anticipation of going after the new Democratic President. Can't you just see them coming out with extreme gusto after having been locked up for eight years and with their memory all these years later still fresh for how it feels to be able to go after a Democratic President. Ooh la la it's better than sex.

Posted by: Poopsybythebay | March 19, 2009 9:19 PM | Report abuse

I thought journalists were supposed to be watchdogs of government officials, not lapdogs.

Posted by: dakotadoug83 | March 19, 2009 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Watchdogs???? Really??? Where were these so called watchdogs you speak of for the last eight years??? That's funny-I was always under the same assumption, much to my chagrin. Funny thing though--they only show up during a Democratic administration. Maybe they are like those bugs, the cicada's that come out every 17 years. In this case the bugs just come out for the Dems.

Posted by: Poopsybythebay | March 19, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

The House bill effectively targets disfavored individuals for confiscatory punitive taxation, and sets a dangerous precedent and have made a bad situation worse.

Regardless of how despised a targeted group is, or how undeserving they might be, a bill that effectively unleashes the power and fury of the federal government to target individual citizens for punishment in absence of any associated crime is wrong on many levels.

How soon will it be before Congress starts setting other groups up as targets for punitive taxation? Who will the targets be? Groups that oppose the majority party on any political issue? How long will this nation last as we know it once we start down that path?

The first critical task now, assuming that the Bill passes the Senate and will be signed by the President, is for the sole remaining branch of government that is not so far directly complicit in this travesty take swift action. The Courts must strike the Bill down on legal grounds.

Congress and the current Administration are rapidly squandering the trust and confidence of the American people, at least those of us who have not drunk the Kool-Aid of Socialist Populism. I wonder if that bothers them, or are they so arrogant in their ideology that they have no respect left for those whom they have come to regard as mere subjects?

Posted by: cwejohnson | March 20, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Poops.... you've got to be kidding... you're suffering from delusions..

Posted by: dakotadoug83 | March 20, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Obama Equals Failed Promises
First he failed to keep his campaign finance reform promise. A pledge he made to the public and the press.
Second, Barack Obama promised us that a Surge in Iraq would not work and now that it has he is calling for one in Afghanistan

Third, he promised us that opening up the US Coastlines for drilling would not impact the price of oil. I guess he slept through that Econ class on the effects of future supply on demand.

Barack Obama's pre presidential carreer had only brought us failed promises so why should we expect differently of him as president?

He has failed to keep his no lobbyists in my administration promise, his $3,000 tax credit per employee for businesses that add to their payroll, his ethical standards promise failed with the nomination of the tax evading Treasury Secretary as well as several others that somehow made it through the vetting process and those are just a few.

The fish rots at the head..

Posted by: smokedsalmoned | March 21, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

How Obama Can Help The Economy

The Stock Market and the jobless rate continue to slide into negative territory since Obama's election. Both are voting No to Obamas various schemes and he continues to not get it. Irresponsible federal spending, Cap & Trade programs that will hurt manufacturing, increased taxes that will stifle small business job creation, threats of more regulation, planned Federal Judge appointments that are not favorable to tort reform and a host of other ideas are not the sort of things that make the business community feel optimistic. In addition, all of Obamas talk of big changes and government solutions mean that business can't clearly plan so they wait, shrink and posture their business plans in a defensive manner.
The fact that Obama either does not care or does not understand that he is scaring the hell out of the U.S business community is nothing short of amazing, given that he seems like a bright fellow.

A promise of fiscal responsibility, predictably constant taxes, no cap & trade schemes, judicial appointments that are not activist in nature, and a level or reduced capital gains tax is what will turn the market around and get business hiring again.

Posted by: smokedsalmoned | March 22, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Running up deficits and spending did not lead us out of the Great Depression. Obama's huge deficit budget won't get us out of a recession either. We will eventually come out of it and economists will once again prove that government does not create jobs but just moves money around and upsets the speed of an economies recovery.
Even leading democrats are balking at Obama's deficit spending ways. Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi took a shot at Obama’s budget, saying “change is not running up even bigger deficits that George Bush did.” They know that creating programs that can never die, amassing huge debt, devaluing the dollar and increasing the cost of money through debt financing is not good for America in the long run.

Here's hoping that Obama takes that "Team Of Rivals" book off his night stand and soon begins to read up on the Great Depression with some titles written by non socialist / Marxist leaning economists.

Posted by: smokedsalmoned | March 22, 2009 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Old Ideas On Job Creation

On Friday March 6th, calling the latest job losses astounding, President Barack Obama promised on Friday to get Americans back to work.
Of course he forgets that government can't really create long term jobs that the private sector or the taxes they generate for use by the public sector cannot support long term. Once the money runs out the Federal Government will have to give out more or the States will have to raise taxes, which will have the impact of lowering the value of the U.S. dollar, increasing the interest burden of the deficit and increasing the cost to America's economy.

The "bold action and big ideas" he spoke of in that speech are the same old tired ideas that did not in fact work during the Great Depression.

Posted by: smokedsalmoned | March 23, 2009 6:21 AM | Report abuse

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