Gallup Organization polling released Monday reveals a rather telling report card on how the public perceives the performance of key players in dealing with the economic stimulus package.
President Obama received a 67 percent approval rating on how he "has handled the government's efforts to pass an economic stimulus bill," with 25 percent disapproving. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress received a much more lukewarm 48 percent approval and 42 percent disapproval in their handling of the stimulus. Republicans in Congress were roundly condemned, with only 31 percent approving of them and 58 percent disapproving. The survey, conducted Friday and Saturday among 1,018 adults, has a 3-point error margin.
The simple fact that voters did something that very few would have anticipated just a year or two earlier should be evidence enough that things have changed.
Gallup polling from Wednesday among 1,012 adults with a 3-point error margin, showed the stimulus plan -- at least, the version that existed then -- had the support of 52 percent, with 38 percent opposed. Numbers like these had been pretty consistent in Gallup polling for several weeks.
That same sampling tested how the Obama administration was perceived in its handling of the economy and management of the federal government. Respondents were asked the question, "thinking back to the way you felt before Barack Obama took office, would you say you now have more confidence, has there been no change, or do you now have less confidence in the Obama administration's..." then randomly asked either "ability to improve the economy" or "ability to manage the federal government."
On "ability to handle the economy," 55 percent reported having more confidence than before, 25 percent about the same and 17 percent less confidence. On "ability to manage the federal government," 51 percent said more confidence, 27 percent about the same and 18 percent less confidence.
One might surmise from all of this that while Americans are fairly unenthusiastic about the substance of the actual economic stimulus package, they give Obama and his administration high marks for their effort and intentions.
Regarding how Republicans in Congress are handling this economic crisis, it seems to appear that their efforts seemed designed to seek approval from the 28 percent of Americans who call themselves Republicans in Gallup polling, but there seems to be little if any effort to reach out to the roughly 72 percent of Americans who either consider themselves Democrats or independents.
Indeed, it would be hard to see how Republicans think they are helping themselves these days, other than trying to feel better about themselves, even if no one else does.
But Democrats in Congress seem almost as out of touch with the public mood.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's comment that "Washington seems consumed by this process argument of bipartisanship," suggests that she learned little from the 2008 election results. Voters really did seem to be serious last fall about Washington changing its ways, even if the old ways were more convenient for those in power.
After all, why try to work with the other side when you can just steamroll them? Granted, how Republicans have handled this economic crisis would certainly make it tempting to just ignore and work around them, but in the Senate, that won't work.
Besides, the end product of a one-party solution might not be what Americans really want anyway. And while only 28 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republicans, the 36 percent who call themselves Democrats are still a far cry from a majority. Add to that the fact that an equal number can't bring themselves to identify with either party, and it should be a sober reminder to Democrats that while voters might have rejected the GOP, they haven't exactly embraced Democrats either.
Democrats in Congress are probably right that -- to the extent that they offer their hands to many, though certainly not all, in the Republican conferences -- their hands would just get bitten. But as Obama can testify, there is a value to offering one's hand and the public seeing that the opposition simply bit it. You get credit for the effort and the other side gets blamed for having spurned an attempt to reach across the aisle.
With an economy that is certainly as bad as it has been since the Great Depression, Americans are looking for their leaders in Washington to rise above partisanship to address the nation's problems. Unfortunately, many in Congress seem oblivious to the message voters sent.
If voters had wanted more of the same, it's a pretty safe assumption that Obama would not have won the Democratic nomination or the general election. The simple fact that voters did something that very few would have anticipated just a year or two earlier should be evidence enough that things have changed. But for the congressional leaders, perhaps this is not the case.
Whether Obama turns out to be a success or not remains to be seen. But he certainly seems to have his ear closer to the ground than either his own party or the opposition on Capitol Hill -- and that is likely to serve him well in upcoming battles. It looks like triangulation is back.