So here's where we are. According to a new New York Times/CBS News poll, trust in Congress has reached the single digits. Disapproval of President Barack Obama's performance on the economy is soaring. A majority of Americans thinks the economy is staying the same or getting worse. A small minority thinks it's getting better.
Yet at the same time, solid majorities favor the policies Obama has advanced to fix the problem — ones that Republicans have blocked. A plurality of Americans agrees with Occupy Wall Street's diagnosis of what's wrong. Despite a relentless effort from the right to portray the movement as radical and extreme, a plurality says it reflects the views of mainstream America.
Only 38 percent of those polled say Obama has a clear plan for creating jobs. But when Americans are asked about his actual policies, without any mention of his name, 51 percent favor payroll tax cuts for workers; 53 percent favor federal aid to states to avert public employee layoffs; 80 percent support spending on the nation's infrastructure; and 65 percent say taxes on those earning more than $1 million should be increased — all policies Republicans have blocked.
Yes, 50 percent favor reducing regulations, but only 27 percent back lowered taxes for corporations — and 69 percent say GOP policies favor the rich.
The big picture here is that Obama's vision for the economy has solid to overwhelming support — at least when his name isn't attached to it. But he may not get credit for having merely a vision, and his approval ratings may well continue to tank, even if he's not to blame for the failure to get his popular policy prescriptions passed. Again: The GOP benefits politically from blocking policies the public supports.
Americans also seem to be tentatively embracing Occupy Wall Street and its basic critique. Right now a plurality of 43 percent generally agrees with the movement, versus only 27 percent who disagree. And 46 percent say the views of people involved in Occupy Wall Street generally reflect the views of most Americans, versus only 34 percent who say they don't. Finally: Sixty-six percent of Americans think income and wealth distribution in this country should be more even. A nation of class warriors!
Taken together, all these numbers suggest a broader challenge for Obama. Can he leverage the resurgence of economic populism — and the public's agreement with Democratic ideas — to break an overall political dynamic that ultimately does favor the GOP? One thing is clear: You can't overstate how volatile and in flux public opinion is right now — and how unpredictable the consequences of this will be.
© Washington Post