News reports have shown that President Barack Obama is sporting a record low approval rating, hovering somewhere between 40 percent and 42 percent. The question is why.
There is no shortage of arguments blaming Barack Obama for a malady of problems. So let's review them and see which ones best match the evidence from surveys.
The poor healthcare rollout. There are have been major glitches in the implementation of Obamacare, ranging from computer issues to coping with governors who won't sign onto the program or insurance companies trying to find ways to dump members into the exchanges. It's an area where the president has taken a public beating from Republicans, who probably should have focused on these problems instead of on a policy of government shutdown and dancing with default.
Yet Obama's numbers haven't been very good over the past few months. In fact, if you look at surveys going back to the summer, he's lagged behind his disapproval ratings since June. Such woes predate the health care implementation problems. Getting the glitches fixed might help the president in the polls, but they don't seem to be the cause of the slide.
Giving the Tea Party a rough ride: Those revelations that the IRS was tough on the Tea Party could be a culprit. The Tea Party hoped that such information would prove to the American people that they were being unfairly treated for standing up to President Obama.
Unfortunately for the Tea Party, a groundswell of sympathy has failed to materialize. The party hurt its image badly during the budget crisis, and its approval ratings are toxic, less than half of Obama's approval rating. And a House of Representatives investigation showed all new groups, not just the Tea Party (some liberal ones too), received special scrutiny. It was a hazing incident.
The Benghazi crisis: Until Fox News signs off the air, it'll be pounding President Obama on this one. And GOP senators are threatening to hold up Obama nominations until more information comes out about the crisis, ostensibly to make front-runner Hillary Clinton look bad. Yet there's no indication that this crisis, which predates Obama's reelection, had any impact on his polls, which show an early summer slide, well after Benghazi has been beaten to death in conservative press circles.
NSA spying scandal: Here's where the poll numbers line up best with the timing of problems. Obama had approval ratings about even with disapproval ratings as we shifted into May of 2013, until Edward Snowden's bombshell revelations about spying by the National Security Agency, which united liberals and libertarians. A massive anti-NSA protest after the shutdown kept the story in the news. That's why nearly every poll has him under water (higher disapproval ratings than approval ratings) since June. And looking more in-depth, you can see that the president has been wounded as much with his own party faithful as anyone. It also explains why Democrats are still comfortably leading the generic ballot over Republicans even as Obama flails about.
Obama has nominated Jeh Johnson, who negotiated the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. But Johnson, a Pentagon lawyer, also defended the drone program. Unless Obama addresses these surveillance concerns, he'll remain an unpopular president.
John A. Tures, associate professor of political science, LaGrange College; firstname.lastname@example.org.